Human rights have become a key focus of law and development, yet they remain conspicuously absent from the regulatory and policy regimes for the use and development of modern agricultural biotechnology. In contrast to rights approaches biotechnology law and policy is concerned with individual property rights and global trade. In this context the only ‘acceptable’ restriction on biotechnology development is safety and thus regulation has focussed almost exclusively on risk assessment.
Drawing on the experience of Zimbabwe and other countries in southern Africa, this paper argues that a risk-based approach, creates an artificial divide between civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights, desegregates society into a conglomerate of individual rights holders, effectively dis-empowers citizens and fails to create a viable and supportive legal framework for consensual agricultural biotechnology development that is responsive to local needs and perceptions about rights.
The paper begins by examining the legal underpinnings of a risk-based approach and asks why it has come to prominence. It contrasts this with a rights approach and looks specifically at how rights framing and claiming has evolved since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980. Against this background it examines demands for rights to participation, livelihood choice, farmer and community property and information and how these are manifested as challenges to the established regulatory regime. In particular it looks at issues of problem framing, knowledge, culture, values, information and responsibility. In conclusion the paper suggests that human rights law is a useful tool in creating more socially responsive law. This is so because it seeks to redress inequalities by establishing legal standards that allow for the restoration of human dignity by putting people back in control of their lives and limiting abuse and so creating substantial equality between people.