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Sustainability, Regulatory Dilemmas and GMOs: The US and the EU Compared

25 Pages Posted: 18 May 2007  

Rosemary Lyster

The University of Sydney Law School


Agency decision-making regarding the release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment, which has the potential to affect the environment and human health, must be consistent with the principles of sustainable development. This requires adherence to the principles of intergenerational equity, the conservation of biological diversity, the precautionary principle, and the polluter pays principle. The potential risks associated with GMOs make public participation an essential element of agency decision-making. This is because the scientific evidence about the safety, or otherwise, of GMOs is sufficiently uncertain. In such a case, decisions to release them must be politically negotiated. Yet when the regulatory arrangements for dealing with GMOs in the United States and the European Union are compared and contrasted markedly different regulatory frameworks emerge. In the case of the US, the regulation of GMOs falls short of the sustainability benchmark, while the EU's seems entirely consistent with it. How do we explain, then, the paradox of a US public which is so accepting of food derived under a relatively lax regulatory and administrative framework, and a fearful EU public protected by extensive regulation and risk assessment processes?

Keywords: Genetically modified organisms, sustainable development, regulatory frameworks

JEL Classification: K32, K10, O13, O32, I18

Suggested Citation

Lyster, Rosemary, Sustainability, Regulatory Dilemmas and GMOs: The US and the EU Compared. Asia Pacific Journal of Environmental Law, Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 111-139, 2004; Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 07/32. Available at SSRN:

Rosemary Lyster (Contact Author)

The University of Sydney Law School ( email )

New Law Building, F10
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006

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