Science & Environmental Health Network

Science, Ethics and Action in the Public Interest
Science & Environmental Health Network - Ecological Medicine: Biotechnology
Agricultural and food systems technologies have rapidly changed over the past twenty years, perhaps most strikingly illustrated by the large-scale commercialization of genetically engineered (GE) crops. However, our understanding of the interactions of these new technologies within complex ecological and social systems, and our ability to predict or regulate impacts have not kept pace with the rate of technological change. In particular, the environmental and sustainable agriculture communities have yet to formulate and implement a comprehensive, proactive research, trade, policy and marketplace agenda that addresses both the scientific uncertainty and the potential adverse consequences of current agricultural practices.

In conjunction with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy SEHN is working to apply the Precautionary Principle to the development and adoption of agricultural technology and farming systems as well as to the regulation of food safety and quality, particularly in the context of international trade. Recognizing that effective and acceptable regulatory policies must be grounded in both appropriate research and meaningful public dialogue, we are also working to establish a public interest research agenda for agricultural and food systems within the US and in countries subject to US trade influences.

Genetically engineered crops are an important case study for implementing the Precautionary Principle and a public interest research agenda. Since the mid-1990s, commercial-scale planting of GE crops has risen from zero to over 70 million acres worldwide. However, despite the scale and pace of this new technology, there remains considerable uncertainty regarding the long-term hazards or benefits of GE crops. Mounting scientific evidence points to potentially serious harm to public health and the environment, and while further research is needed, the uncertainties, complexities and ethical dimensions of GE technology must be openly acknowledged and actively addressed. We believe the Precautionary Principle and public interest research can help to address these challenges and move us toward an agriculture that protects and promotes social and environmental values.

Food Fights: Canadian regulators are under pressure to face the uncertainties of genetically modified food.
by Katherine Barrett, Ph.D.
Winter 2002
Reprinted courtesy of Alternative Journal: Environmental thought, policy and action. Vo. 28, No.1

In Defense of the Precautionary Principle
by Carolyn Raffensperger and Katherine Barrett
September 2001
Correspondence to Nature Biotechnology Vol. 19, No. 9, pages 811-812.

Technology: Who Chooses? A Precaution Primer
by Nancy Myers and Carolyn Raffensperger.
Fall 2001
Reprinted with permission from Yes Magazine
NB: The link will download the paper in Rich Text Format.

Applying The Precautionary Approach To Living Modified Organisms
by Katherine Barrett, Ph.D.
December 2000
Presented at the Intergovernmental Committee for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, Montpellier, France
REVISED September 2001
NB: Due to length of the paper, the link will download the paper as a MS Word document.

The U.S. and the Precautionary Principle: An NGO Response in the Context of the Cartagena Protocol
by Nancy Myers
December 2000
Presented at a SEHN workshop on the precautionary principle at the Intergovernmental Committee for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, Montpellier, France
In this paper we outline four considerations that will help to focus implementation of the precautionary principle in the Cartagena Protocol. In the second part we offer responses to criticisms of the precautionary principle which are often presented by U.S. officials and others who support U.S. viewpoints. Such arguments have been raised in negotiations on the Protocol, as well as in recent international trade, environment, and food safety discussions. It is important to address these criticisms directly so they do not stand in the way of either a broad precautionary approach to protecting the environment and human health or specific precautionary actions taken to implement the Protocol.
NB: Due to length of the paper, the link will download the paper in Rich Text Format.

SEHN’s Comments to the USDA’s Advisory Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology
May 2000

The Risks of Scientific Revolutions
by Katherine Barrett, Ph.D.
April 27, 2000
Editorial in the Vancouver Sun on the hazards of genetically engineered organisms.

Genetic Engineering and the Precautionary Principle: Information for Extension
by Katherine Barrett and Gabriela Flora
March 2000
A Publication of the Science and Environmental Health Network (SEHN) and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). An information paper for agricultural extension workers discussing the potential hazards and benefits of agricultural biotechnology, current US regulations, and the precautionary principle as an alternative regulatory framework.
NB: Due to length of the paper, the link will download the paper as a MS Word document.

Applying the Precautionary Principle to Agricultural Biotechnology
by Katherine Barrett, Ph.D.
March 2000
An in-depth exploration of the precautionary principle and how it can be applied to the research and regulatory agenda for agricultural biotechnology.
NB: Due to length of the paper, the link will download the paper as a MS Word document.

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