The precautionary principle: Making managerial decisions on GMOs is difficult

  • Fredrika W. Jansen van Rijssen Paraclinical Sciences, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
  • Jacobus N. Eloff Paraclinical Sciences, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
  • E. Jane Morris School of Biology, University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom
Keywords: genetically modified organisms, South Africa, risk assessment, endogenous allergens


The precautionary approach of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, if incorporated into legislation of countries as a precautionary principle (PP), could cause great difficulty in decision‑making on genetically modified organisms. No consensus seems to be possible on the interpretation of the PP, as responsibility often is passed on to political decision‑making and, eventually, to court rulings. A case study on the assessment of possible unintended effects of endogenous allergens illustrates the complexity decision‑makers may experience. We review the descriptions of the PP and the debate on the interpretation and conclusions that a number of authors have come to, as a step closer to a solution in decision‑making. South Africa may have to consider the PP in the broader context of its food security needs, which would require improved communication as an additional step in the process of risk analysis.

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