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January 22, 2001


Precuationary Principle


I came across the following reference. I thought the reference
would be of interest to the AgBioView readers.

"Applying the Precautionary Principle to Genetically Modified


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Paper ID: Weidenbaum Center Working Paper No. PS 157
Date: August 2000

Email: Mailto:igoklany@erols.com
Postal: Independent
8726 Old Courthouse Road
Vienna, VA 22182 USA

Paper Requests:
Contact Derek Blakeley, Publications Coordinator, Murray
Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy,
Washington University in St. Louis (formerly Center for the
Study of American Business), Campus Box 1027, Washington
University, St. Louis, MO 63130. Phone: (314)935-5068. fax:
(314) 935-5688. Mailto:derek@csab.wustl.edu

The precautionary principle has often been invoked to justify a
ban on genetically modified (GM) crops. However, this
justification is based upon a selective application of the
principle to the potential public health and environmental
benefits of such a ban, while ignoring a ban's potential
downside. This is due principally to the fact that the
precautionary principle itself provides no guidance on its
application in situations where actions (such as a ban on GM
crops) could simultaneously lead to uncertain benefits and
uncertain costs to public health and the environment.

Accordingly, a framework for applying the principle in cases
where the final outcome is ambiguous because both costs and
benefits are uncertain is developed. Then, based on a brief
survey of the public health and environmental costs and benefits
of GM crops, this framework is applied to the broad range of
consequences of a ban on GM crops. This application of the
framework indicates that by comparison with conventional crops,
GM crops would increase the quantity and nutritional quality of
food supplies. Accordingly, GM crops ensure that-despite the
expected increases in human population-the world's progress in
improving public health, reducing mortality rates, and
increasing life expectancies during the twentieth century should
be sustained into the twenty-first.

Plant and animal genes have always been part and parcel of the
human diet, and consumption of these genes has not modified
human DNA. The public health benefits from GM crops, therefore,
are likely to be larger in magnitude and more certain than the
adverse public health effects from the ingestion of any genes
that may be transferred from various organisms into GM crops.

With respect to environmental effects, cultivation of GM,
rather than conventional, crops would be more protective of
biological diversity and nature. By increasing productivity, GM
crops reduce the amount of land and water that would otherwise
have to be converted to mankind's needs. Reductions in land
conversion to agriculture would reduce soil erosion, conserve
carbon stores and sinks, and improve water quality. GM crops
also could help limit environmental damage by reducing reliance
on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and increasing no-till
cultivation, which would further reduce soil erosion, water
pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.

A comprehensive application of the precautionary principle
indicates that a GM crop ban, contrary to the claims of its
advocates, would increase overall risks to public health and to
the environment. Thus it would be more prudent to research,
develop, and commercialize GM crops than to ban such crops,
provided reasonable caution is exercised.

Drew L. Kershen
Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law
University of Oklahoma College of Law
Norman, Oklahoma 73019-5081 U.S.A.
Ph.: 1-405-325-4784
FAX: 1-405-325-0389