RECON Online Working Paper 2009/14

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Applying Precaution in Community Authorisation of Genetically Modified Products

Challenges and Suggestions for Reform


Maria Weimer (European University Institute)



In this paper, Maria Weimer endeavour to examine concrete challenges, which arise with regard to implementation of the precautionary principle in the field of European Community regulation of GMOs. Developed by the European Courts into a general legal principle, precaution requires EU regulators to strike a balance between scientific and political legitimacy when taking decisions on risk-entailing products. Following this understanding the current GMO legislation creates precautionary governance structures, which allow for a broad input into the authorisation process not only of scientific, but also of ‘other legitimate factors.’ At the same time, it can be criticised for narrowly defining precaution as a decision rule, which, if applied correctly, will lead the decision-maker to the ‘right’ decision. Weimer argues that this misconception is one of the reasons why in the current authorisation practice the Community institutions fail to apply the principle in a balanced way, falling into the extremes of either purely science-based decision-making or a highly politicised precautionary rhetoric. Further, Weimer suggests that in order not to be paralysing, precaution should be understood as a procedural principle that provides for precautionary governance, thus, enabling regulators to make appropriate risk choices.


Legitimacy – Multilevel Governance – Regulatory Politics – Risk Regulation

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