Foods derived from genetically modified organisms have given rise to much controversy. Deeply affected by rapid advancement in science and technology, modern societies are grappling with their avowed aversion to risk. Food sociologist Poulain notes that, paradoxically, the “more [food] safety and quality spread into corporate and government discourse, the more anxiety spread among consumers.” From an ethical perspective, two elements can be identified as a source of tension operating at the level of novel food risk analysis: (1) the use of a broader conception of risk by consumers and (2) the coexistence of three conceptual frameworks relating to the acceptability of risk. We will discuss both elements in the context of novel food policy. The sociology of risk points to a shift between expert and lay assessment of risk. Whereas experts focus on the safety of novel foods for humans, animals and the environment, non-experts adopt a much broader series of non-safety factors, including economic, ethical, social and aesthetic concerns. Indeed, according to food sociologist Fischler, we do not consume everything that is biologically edible, or in other words safe to eat, because everything that is biologically edible is not culturally edible. Acknowledging such concerns, a broader definition of risk is slowly emerging through regulatory initiatives making allowance for non-safety criteria into the approval process of novel foods. Some countries are moving away from a science-based risk assessment towards an evaluation based on the social acceptability of risk. The case of Norway and Australia will be presented. Yet, if such an innovation is likely to remove the first source of tension, decision-making still faces the challenge raised by the coexistence of three conceptual frameworks relating to the acceptability of risk: integrity, optimization, and autonomy. Consensus is likely to be unattainable on the issues involved.
|Keywords:||Novel Foods, Genetically Modified Organisms, Policy Regulations, Risk Analysis, Conceptions of Risk, Experts, Consumers, Social Acceptability of Risk, Ethics|
Associate Professor, Department of Animal Sciences, Laval University, Quebec, Quebec, Canada
Doctorate Student, Faculty of Law, Université Laval, Quebec, Quebec, Canada
Conseiller en éthique, Laval University, Quebec, Quebec, Canada