Stuart J. Smyth, William A. Kerr, and Peter W.B. Phillips
University of Saskatchewan

Biotechnology has triggered a spirited debate about how to assess risks, what rules to use, and where to vest the authority to decide. Post World War II, there has been a strong move to normalize and institutionalize a ‘science-informed’ system in international science and trade treaties. Recently there has been a pushback against the privileged role science institutions play in decision-making, especially regarding genetically modified crops. Some countries have tried to use legal derogations in institutions such as the World Trade Organization, while others have attempted to construct and implement competing power systems, mostly revolving around the Convention on Biological Diversity to supplement or replace science-informed decisionmaking with socio-economic considerations. Neither effort has been entirely satisfactory. The Americas generally follow the science- based regulatory framework, while Europe and Africa at times pursue a socio-economic-based regulatory framework. We assess the underlying information, valuation, and selection rules involved in the battle between ‘science-informed’ decisionmaking and rules incorporating socio-economic considerations in global agri-food trade, concluding that a generally accepted comprehensive approach to the regulation of products of biotechnology is unlikely in the foreseeable future.

Key words: GM crops and products, governance, international trade, knowledge management, science-based regulation.