The EU, risk and precaution in the context of GMOs: are there legal limits to precaution?

Earlier in the month Matrix hosted the latest in its “40 years on – the UK in the EU” seminar series.  The seminar was on EU environmental law and was entitled “The EU, risk and precaution in the context of GMOs: are there legal limits to precaution?”.  The speakers were Professor Maria Lee (UCL) and Kate Cook, a barrister at Matrix.  The speakers provided fascinating insights into the GMO authorisation process at EU level.  Professor Lee provided an overview of the way in which decision-making in this area takes place, noting what she considered to be a lack of political legitimacy arising from the fact that such decisions were in effect solely in the hands of Commission officials, the “Comitology” procedure having been a failure in practice due to sharp divisions among Member States.  This was in her view particularly regrettable in view of the fact that such decisions were ‘political’ (in the sense of requiring value judgments rather than purely scientific/factual assessment).  She suggested that there may be a case for de-harmonisation in this area so as to permit the Member States to take their own decisions in relation to the importation of such products, provided that they complied with Article 36 TFEU.  Kate Cook focussed on the position internationally, providing an overview of (often fraught) international negotiations and the recent litigation before the SPS panel of the WTO in which the EU’s moratorium on authorising GMOs was successfully challenged by the US.

Kate’s slides can be found here.

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