WTO, public reason and food public reasoning in the 'trade conflict' on GM-Food

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 7 (4):417 - 431 (2004)
Abstract
Food trade is of economic importance for both developed and developing countries. Food, however, is a special commodity. Firstly, the lack of food – hunger, under-nourishment, and starvation – is one of the worlds pressing moral problems. But food is not only special because it is necessary for our survival; food is also special because it is strongly related to our social and cultural identity. Two recent transatlantic trade conflicts over food – over the use of artificial growth hormones in beef production and over the use of (modern) biotechnology in food production – show that food is a specific commodity. In these trade-conflicts, the obligations flowing from free-trade treaties collide with the cultural and social meanings of food. Current international trade agreements neglect this point and force countries to fight their case in the field of food safety science. This causes a bias in the discussion. Europes resistance towards artificial growth hormones and GM-food is not strictly science based; it is also culture based. For a fair resolution of trade-conflicts, this needs to be accommodated in international trade legislation. With the help of the notion of public reason I defend that (i) precaution with regard to scientific uncertainty, and (ii) the possibility for compulsory labelling with regard to sensitive non-nutritional properties of foodstuffs, need to be incorporated in international food trade regulations.
Keywords food safety  GM-food  public reason  value pluralism  international trade  WTO
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