Publication Details

Wickson, F. 2005, 'Australia's environmental regulation of genetically modified organisms: risk and uncertainty, science and precaution', in M. Howes (eds), Griffith Journal of the Environment: Ecopolitics XVI Conference, selected papers, Issue 1, Griffith University, Australia, pp. 1-27.


Any organisation or institution charged with the objective of regulating the deliberate environmental release of genetically modified organisms so as to ‘protect the environment’ will face the difficult task of decision making in the face of a debate where the meaning of ‘the environment’ and what it takes to ‘protect it’ are contested. While the tool of risk analysis has traditionally been employed as an aid for environmental decision making in regards to new technologies, through a review of the social science literature on risk and uncertainty in environmental decision making this paper highlights the limitations associated with adopting this approach. Through this review, I sketch an emerging theoretical shift away from science/risk based approaches to environmental decision making, towards what can be contrastingly described as precaution/uncertainty based approaches. I describe how process based approaches to precaution differ from the simple application of a precautionary principle and present a typology of different forms of uncertainty relevant to environmental decision making. I then go on to analyse the framework currently used in Australia for regulating the deliberate environmental release of genetically modified organisms in terms of whether it can be seen to represent a science or precaution based approach to environmental decision making. Arguing that Australia has adopted a framework that employs a largely technocratic science/risk based approach to decision making I conclude this paper by presenting a number of recommendations as to how some of the limitations associated with this approach could be overcome.

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Ecopolitics Conference