Biotechnology, the US-EU dispute and the Precautionary Principle


  • H. Van den Belt


The international debate on biotechnology is extremely polarized. Opponents such as Greenpeace International, Friends of the Earth and other NGOs often invoke the Precautionary Principle to advance their cause. The principle is also at issue in trade disputes between the USA and the European Union. There are several versions of the Precautionary Principle in circulation. The strong version adopted by many environmentalist organizations is logically untenable, while the weaker versions espoused by the European Commission and enshrined in international treaties are rather vague and ill-defined. The contested role of the Precautionary Principle bears testimony to public ambivalence towards scientific expertise in modern risk societies. A more open and democratic decision-making process on biotechnology will not by itself resolve the underlying uncertainties. Shifting the burden of proof to the proponents of biotechnology makes sense only if the required standard of proof is also specified. The debate on the Precautionary Principle appears to be a proxy for a larger debate on the future of world agriculture