The Future of Food
Forum for Applied Research & Public Policy, Vol. 16, No. 2, Summer 2001
Posted: 30 Oct 2001
The precautionary principle has sometimes been used to justify banning new technologies, such as genetically modified crops, that haven't been proved to be "safe" from an environmental or public health perspective. Such a ban would reduce some environmental and public health risks, while increasing or prolonging others associated with existing technologies that would be displaced by GM crops or which persist despite existing technologies. This paper applies the precautionary principle to such a ban using a decision framework developed elsewhere to evaluate policies that could lead to uncertain benefits and uncertain costs. It finds that the precautionary principle, applied to both costs and benefits of a ban, actually supports the wise use of GM foods since the benefits of such foods are certain and large, while its costs, if used wisely, are uncertain and relatively minor. The paper also argues that halting GM crops would be detrimental to conserving biodiversity and, therefore, contrary to the aims and goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Perhaps, more importantly, needlessly hindering GM crops would also diminish the quantity and quality of food available globally, which would make it harder for the hundreds of millions who still suffer from hunger and malnutrition to improve their lot. To the extent that freedom from hunger and malnutrition are basic human rights, that would also violate the rights of the millions whose lack of access to adequate food and nutrition would be prolonged.
Keywords: genetically modified crops, agricultural bioengineering, bioengineered crops, precautionary principle, hunger, malnutrition, food security, biological diversity, human rights
JEL Classification: D81, I10, I18, K32, Q20
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