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This paper aims to offer a fresh perspective into what is at stake in the cross-cultural trade dispute over genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) by subjecting a particular discursive sample, the parties’ submissions to the WTO panel, to critical scrutiny. The first step involves a survey of the rhetorical strategies deployed by the parties’ in the presentation of their arguments to the Panel. Next, I embark on the task of ‘disassembling the double helix’. My use of the term ‘double helix’ in this analysis refers to the close coupling of scientific and legal discourses in the trade regime: science and law are two parallel strands of discourse wound around each other, each punctuated at intervals by key binding sites where linkages between the strands are anchored. The image I aim to conjure up is, of course, the one made famous by Watson & Crick’s 1953 discovery of the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), “the molecule that genes are made of”. A discovery which has led, inevitably, to the advances in molecular biology that give rise to the technologies so contested in their current application to the task of ‘improving’ food. This work attempts to unfurl that twisted ladder and peel apart the strands of scientific and legal discourse that are coiled together in the ‘double helix’ of international trade law dealing with environmental and health risks. The aim is to gain some clarity from the disentanglement: it is hoped that teasing the scientific from the legal discourses will expose the implicit assumptions at play when international trade tribunals turn to scientific assessment as the means of separating the legitimate from the protectionist in disputes over contested technologies.


Published in the NYU Global Law Working Paper Series 2005

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