BRIEFING PAPER No.7
Liability is a citizens' issue
Liability is a protective measure for the potential victim. Protection of their citizens is one of the cord tasks of governments. To ensure mechanisms of compensation and redress for the victims is a prerequisite of justice. So, biosafety is also a matter of equity as befitting a protocol under the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Compensation and redress address the time after the damage has been done. They are ex post measures which, however, cannot solve the problem of time-lags between different impacts of a given technology. Promises of benefits may win on a short distance. Damages may outrun benefits on a longer course.
The precautionary approach to liability in the field of the safe transfer, handling and use of LMOs is the obligation of those who transfer, handle and use to fully insure the risks. The expected benefits can thus be counterbalanced by risk pricing at the very outset of technological ventures.
Moreover, insurance is a means for the financially weak partner to get access to otherwise not readily available, independent risk assessment by tapping the resources and expertise of insurance companies. The costs of insuring risks are an important form of advance information for producers and consumers alike. Thus, insurance is a market mechanism for internalizing the precautionary approach.
However, liability and the obligation to insure have to be politically fought for and legally claimed by those who are risking to suffer the damage. They are usually not promoted by those who are risking to cause the damage.
Global market means internationalization of risks. Under such conditions international legislation on biosafety should include - at least in the not so far future - the elaboration of provisions on liability and compensation.
Montreal, 14 October 1997