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Title: Genetically modified crops between precaution and innovation: The European court of justice decision of 13 September 2017 and its consequences

Luciano Butti

University of Padua, Italy

Biography

After working as a state criminal judge from 1984 to 1997, Luciano Butti joined B&P Law Firm as a partner in 1998. At the firm he assists clients in litigation before the Italian Court of Cassation and through out-of-court advice. He is also Affiliated Professor of International Environmental Law at the University of Padua. He has written books and articles on Italian, European and International Law and is involved in academic research projects and training courses held in Italy and abroad. Luciano was recently invited by the University of Cambridge (UK) to conduct a research project as a Visiting Scholar (October 2016 to May 2017).

Abstract

Genetically Modified Crops are at the very center of a long-lasting discussion between a precautionary approach and technological innovation. Such a discussion has been particularly relevant in Europe, where it gave rise to Court litigation. In 1998, the European Commission authorized the placing on the market of genetically modified maize MON 810. In its decision, the Commission referred to the opinion of the Scientific Committee which stated that there was no reason to believe that that product would have any adverse effects on human health or the environment. In 2013, however, the Italian Government asked the Commission to adopt emergency measures to prohibit the cultivation of such maize in the light of some new scientific studies. On the basis of a scientific opinion issued by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the Commission concluded that there was no new science-based evidence to support the requested emergency measures and to invalidate its previous conclusions about the safety of maize MON 810. Despite this, in 2013 the Italian Government adopted a ministerial decree prohibiting the cultivation of MON 810 in Italian territory. After a complicated legal proceedings, the ECJ (European Court of Justice) found that, as it is not evident that genetically modified products are likely to constitute a serious risk to human health, animal health or the environment, no European regulation allows Member States to adopt provisional risk management measures in specific circumstances (Judgment of the European Court of Justice – Third Chamber – 13 September 2017 in Case C-111/16). The Court emphasized that the precautionary principle, which presupposes scientific uncertainty as regards the existence of a particular risk, is not sufficient for the adoption of such measures. The presentation discusses this case and offers ideas and guidelines to manage effectively and safely the challenges that the precautionary principle poses to technological innovation.

Audience Take Away:

  • Direct knowledge of the legal proceedings related to GMO which took place in Europe;
  • Awareness of the political and legal debate about the role of the precautionary principle as a potential limit to technological innovation;
  • Better understanding of the most recent trends as well as of the best guidelines aimed at addressing the challenges that the precautionary principle poses to technological innovation.