Adjudicating the GM Food Wars: Science, Risk, and Democracy in World Trade Law

David Winickoff
Sheila Jasanoff
Lawrence Busch
Robin Grove-White
This piece was originally written by four scholars, including Observatory Director Sheila Jasanoff, as an amicus curiae brief to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO was considering a legal challenge from the United States, Canada, and Argentina to the de facto moratorium on genetically modified food imports in the European Communities (EC). The challengers argued that such a moratorium was illegal on the grounds that the European Union’s actions were not based on sound science of risk assessment. The purpose of the brief was in part to provide perspective on the socially constructed nature of risk assessment to the WTO. The authors argue that the ruling in the case will have profound implications for the relationships between science and democracy by establishing a narrow vision of what counts as legitimate science for policy and the right relationship between science and state’s rights to political self-determination. Ultimately, this brief was accepted by the WTO but not considered in rendering its decision, and the WTO ruled in favor of the United States and its allies.