The precautionary principle must be retained, unless we are willing to be reckless with our common future

Guest blog by Rupert Readrupert-read

I recently submitted evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry on GM food and the Precautionary Principle. Unfortunately, as you’ll see intimated at the outset of my remarks there, I have relatively little faith in the inquiry.

It seems to me that the inquiry’s terms have pre-judged the outcome – very ironic, given the Committee’s alleged desire for an ‘evidence-based’ policy! Sadly, I think that they have decided that they want to force GM food on an unwilling British public, and are cynically using the chimera of a solely ‘evidence-based’ policy-process to justify a conclusion that they have pre-judged.

Why do I say use the strong term, “chimera”? My reasons are explained here, in this my main published piece thus far on this matter, co-authored with Nassim N. Taleb (author of The Black Swan) and others.

In very brief (and as set out in a suitably brief form here – scroll forward to page 9): it might be true that the evidence against GM food is weak. Even if that were true, that would in no way license the conclusion that GM food is safe. Absence of evidence of harm is not evidence of absence of harm. One needs to consider the vast unevidenced realm of what else might have happened in the past but didn’t and of what might happen in the future (which by definition hasn’t happened yet), and not just the thin sliver represented by the best available evidence.

Nevertheless, we have to try, and not just give up on the Select Committee process altogether. And so, along with the good people of STEPS and various others, we’ve had and are having a go (jointly-signed written evidence). Perhaps the Select Committee will prove me wrong. Perhaps the Committee and its inquiry are less cynical and pre-judged than I fear.


About the author
Rupert Read is Reader in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia, and the Chair of Green House. His recent work includes the first and last essays in The Post-growth project, and his book Wittgenstein among the sciences.

Find out more
Resource Pack: GM Food and the Precautionary Principle

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