On Giving Account and Taking Things into Account: The Case of Glyphosate
TARN Working Paper Series 1/2019
22 Pages Posted: 28 Jan 2019
Date Written: January 16, 2019
Risk regulation regimes in the developed world are increasingly ‘science-based’, that is heavily dependent on scientific assessment of the risk conducted by independent and specialised agencies. In the European Union (EU) these agencies are mostly advisory, and assessments are delivered in the form of ‘opinion’, yet their pronouncements as for the ‘safety’ of a novel food, pesticide or chemical are very often judiciously obeyed by the politically accountable risk managers. In this way the locus of decision-making moves upstream, to the risk assessing agencies and in turn this creates strong pressures to make them ‘accountable’. The present paper explores the accountability of scientific agencies through a case study of the recent highly salient assessments of glyphosate – a popular herbicide – conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). It begins by reframing the notion of accountability as the twin requirements to give account as well as take into account. The paper argues that the different sides diverge not merely in having opposite views on the one key issue – whether glyphosate is safe – but also in having quite different views on what matters, i.e. what factors are relevant for the decision. When some factors cannot be taken into account by the decision-makers while others are made pivotal, the stakeholders are forced into a proxy war on the latter (in this case the alleged carcinogenicity of the herbicide). The other key argument of the paper is that the scientific assessments are always shaped by the legal environment the assessors are embedded into and therefore it is impossible to separate ‘legal’ and ‘political’ from ‘technical’ issues at any level. Thus, even the most trivial or technical-looking detail may have enormous political significance. Sophisticated stakeholders never fail to notice this, so it is necessary for policy makers and academics to acknowledge it too.
Keywords: Accountability, Agencies, EFSA, Glyphosate, Pesticides, Public Reasons
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation