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Liability for the release of GMOs into the environment: exploring the boundaries of nuisance

Lookup NU author(s): Emeritus Professor Christopher Rodgers



The uncertainty surrounding the potential impact of the growing of GM crops on a commercial scale has been reflected in a broadly precautionary stance taken by both EU and UK legislation regulating their field-testing and commercial exploitation. Nevertheless, there remains a failure of public trust in “sound science” and in the ability of the regulatory system for overseeing commercial releases to safeguard public health and the wider environment. Against this background, the question of potential liability for harm resulting from the release of GMOs to the environment has assumed prominence in the debate over the commercialization of GM crops. The debate raises a number of issues concerning the ability of the law of tort to efficiently allocate risk among the various stakeholders involved in disputes over the planting of GM crops. There is also a question whether GM technology should be singled out for special treatment when there is no special liability regime for other areas of agricultural innovation and crop improvement. This paper considers the potential role of the law of nuisance in resolving property rights disputes arising from GMO releases, and the complementary role which the public liability regime proposed in the EC Draft Directive on Environmental Liability might play. It argues that the law of nuisance has a significant role to play in regulating land use involving GMOs. There is, however, a fundamental tension between the interests protected by the law of nuisance and environmental policy interests. If the law of nuisance is to play a meaningful role in this area, a radical reappraisal of a number of its basic tenets will be required.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Rodgers CP

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Cambridge Law Journal

Year: 2003

Volume: 62

Issue: 2

Pages: 371-402

Print publication date: 01/07/2003

Date deposited: 21/04/2011

ISSN (print): 0008-1973

ISSN (electronic): 1469-2139

Publisher: Cambrige University Press


DOI: 10.1017/S0008197303006354


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