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Genetically modified organisms – who’s liable?

With suspect corn on Japanese pizzas under the scientific and media microscope, what better time to discuss GMO liability.

Victoria University Economics Masters student, Stephen Hutton, will raise the liability issues of genetic modification on Wednesday in a seminar hosted by the University-based New Zealand Institute for the Study of Competition and Regulation. Mr Hutton is also a research assistant in the ISCR.

His presentation considers the role of liability in providing incentives to reduce risk associated with GMO accidents. The moratorium on GMOs is scheduled to be lifted on 29 October, 2003.

“The issue of GMOs has been one of the most controversial and polarising political issues for many years,” Mr Hutton says.

“It now seems clear the Government will allow some GMO release, so the focus of the debate should move to the institutional system in which this release occurs.

“One aspect of this system is the liability regime, which determines under what circumstances users of GMOs are liable for damages caused by any GMO accidents.

“Under current law, GMOs will generally be covered by a negligence regime, but this may not be the best system.”

Mr Hutton says GMOs may have the potential to cause accidents that inflict damage on third parties such as crop contamination.

“In an unregulated market without liability, companies conducting genetic modification would have little incentive to take costly precautions to reduce the probability or severity of accidents.”

Mr Hutton’s presentation is based on his final Masters thesis. In late July he departs Victoria University to begin his PhD studies in the University of Maryland’s economics programme.

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