Precautionary principle

The precautionary principle is applied primarily in environmental and health policy. The precautionary principle is intended to prevent negative effects (e.g. of a technology). There is no uniform definition of the term. However, according to the European Parliament's Scientific Service, "uncertain scientific evidence" is an important component of most concepts. The precautionary principle provides a basis for decision-making for policy makers. It should be applied when inaction by public authorities could have significant consequences.

There are very different views on the application of the precautionary principle. According to the EU Parliament, most experts assume that a ban or a reversal of the burden of proof are not part of it. This is because an overly strict application of the precautionary principle can lead to paralysis in politics, legislation and science. It thus quickly becomes a "prohibition principle." In his work "Laws of Fear: Beyond the Precautionary Principle," the U.S. economist Cass R. Sunstein criticizes overly strict interpretations of the precautionary principle as follows: "The starting point of my argument is that the precautionary principle is indeed incoherent in its strongest formulations, for the following reason: every social situation involves risks. Therefore, the principle has a paralyzing effect; it prohibits us from taking the very measures it calls for. Since every course of action carries risks, the precautionary principle prohibits both action and inaction, and everything in between. [...]"

In summary:

The authorities in the EU and Switzerland work according to the so-called precautionary principle. In simplified terms, this means that all potential risks or damage to the environment should be excluded or avoided in advance. In case of doubt, an active substance or product is not approved or banned. Countries such as the USA, Japan, Australia and Brazil take a different approach. The authorities there assume that every product carries a certain risk, but that society can deal with it, manage the risks. This approach is more open to (urgently needed....) innovations and yet does not mean simply allowing everything from the outset. However, it is based on the principle of risk assessment - and thus also includes the evaluation of opportunities and benefits and the risk of not applying a new technology.

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