Biotechnology regulation: GMOs, agriculture, science and the environment

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    In medicine there seems to be little debate about the merits of biotechnology, but in agriculture the debate is often intense. This paper offers an agricultural science perspective on the debate and on implications for the environment. An ecosystem framework is used to discuss how genetically modified organisms (GMOs) could affect the environment. A minimal case exists for GMO effects on land use or water, nutrient or energy flows within ecosystems. The more likely effect is on biodiversity, though the case studies to date suggest those effects are minor and that management procedures can be implemented to minimise any adverse effects. The evaluation of GMOs is better done relative to current practices than to a pristine state: GM canola versus canola rather than versus native vegetation. The evaluation of GMOs needs to investigate their effects on the functioning of the whole ecosystem within local areas and to establish over time whether effects are transient. The framework used for making scientific decisions is discussed and contrasted with the precautionary principle. The limitations of the precautionary principle and the nature of the errors involved are highlighted. It is argued that a better approach to evaluating the release of GMOs is to do a comprehensive benefit/cost analysis incorporating the cost of incorrect decision-making.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)7-27
    Number of pages21
    JournalAsia Pacific Journal of Environmental Law
    Issue number3-4
    Publication statusPublished - 2004


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