Extracts from the Summary of the EU Communication on the precautionary principle 2001
Where action is deemed necessary, measures based on the precautionary principle should be, inter alia:
- Proportional to the chosen level of protection
- non-discriminatory in their application
- consistent with similar measures already taken
- based on an examination of the potential benefits and costs of action or lack of action (including, where appropriate and feasible, an economic cost/benefit analysis)
- subject to review in the light of new scientific data, and
- capable of assigning responsibility for producing the scientific evidence necessary for a more comprehensive risk assessment.
Proportionality means tailoring measures to the chosen level of protection. Risk can rarely be reduced to zero, but incomplete risk assessments may greatly reduce the range of options open to risk managers. A total ban may not be a proportional response to a potential risk in all cases. However, in certain cases, it is the sole possible response to a given risk.
Non-discriminatory means that comparable situations should not be treated differently, and that different situations should not be treated in the same way, unless there are objective grounds for doing so.
Consistency means that measures should be of comparable scope and nature to those already taken in equivalent areas in which all scientific data are available.
Examination of the benefits and costs of action or inaction
Examining costs and benefits entails comparing the overall cost to the Community of action and lack of action, in both the short and long term. This is not simply an economic cost-benefit analysis: its scope is much broader, and includes non-economic considerations, such as the efficacy of possible options and their acceptability to the public. In the conduct of such an examination, account should be taken of the general principle and the case law of the Court that the protection of health takes precedence over economic considerations.
Subject to review
Subject to review in the light of examination of new scientific developments, means measures based on the precautionary principle should be maintained so long as scientific information is incomplete or inconclusive, and the risk is still considered too high to be imposed on society, in view of chosen level of protection. Measures should be periodically reviewed in the light of scientific progress, and amended as necessary.
Capable of assigning responsibility
Assigning responsibility for producing scientific evidence is already a common consequence of these measures. Countries with a prior approval (marketing authorisation) requirement on products that they deem dangerous a priori reverse the burden of proving injury, by treating them as dangerous unless and until businesses do the scientific work necessary to demonstrate that they are safe.
Where there is no prior authorisation procedure, it may be up t the user or to public authorities to demonstrate the nature of a danger and the level of risk of a product or process. In such cases, a specific precautionary measure might be taken to place the burden of proof upon the producer, manufacturer or importer, but this cannot be made a general rule.
- An overview of precaution and how it is applied to EMFs
- other definitions of the precautionary principle