American Legislative Exchange Council  [Printer-friendly version]
October 12, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The chemical industry is conducting a
worldwide campaign opposing the precautionary principle. Here is one
of the industry's most recent strategy papers.]


The "precautionary principle" is a term invented by environmental
alarmists to justify their opposition to technological progress. It
essentially states that one must conclusively "prove" that a proposed
action or advancement poses no risk of human or environmental harm
before being deemed lawful. This asserted burden of proof is
deliberately worded to be a very difficult standard to attain. It is
impossible to "prove" that a hypothetical result, no matter how far-
fetched, absolutely cannot occur (i.e., one cannot prove a negative).

The practical effect of the precautionary principle is to ban almost
anything that is not "natural." It prays on irrational fears
regarding technology rather than relying on empirical scientific
research. An example of the stifling effect of the precautionary
principle can be found regarding genetically improved crops. For
three decades biotechnology, operating under stringent government
regulatory scrutiny, has produced greater yields, higher nutrition,
and crops requiring ever-decreasing amounts of pesticides, with not a
single person ever experiencing any adverse health effects.
Nevertheless, environmental activists operating under the
precautionary principle continue to assert that genetically enhanced
crops should be banned because such an extensive record of human and
environmental success does not constitute "proof" that genetically
enhanced crops pose no human health risks. All we have seen,
precautionary principle advocates argue, is anecdotal evidence that
perhaps no harm has yet occurred.

One need not have an overactive imagination to see the stifling, if
not destructive, effect the precautionary principle can have on
scientific progress and our standard of living. There is little good
that can be accomplished, and much evil that can result, from
abandoning our current EPA and FDA regulatory procedures in favor of a
"precautionary principle" that, if adopted 10,000 years ago, would
have us still living in the Stone Age.

Talking Points:

* Current EPA and FDA rules, regulations and procedures already
rigorously ensure environmental health and consumer safety. There is
no need to abandon a system that encourages advances in human welfare
for an overly alarmist agenda that will stifle scientific and societal

* The precautionary principle itself forbids implementation of
the precautionary principle: proponents have failed to conclusively
"prove" that the adoption of the precautionary principle will not
cause more societal harm that good.

* Application of the precautionary principle 10,000 years ago
would have kept us in the Stone Age, as there was no "proof" that
mining, using, and disposing of bronze, iron, etc., would not cause
environmental or human health harm. Application of the precautionary
principle 100 years ago would have banned automobiles, air travel,
electricity, and other modern essentials as well. Application of the
precautionary principle today will seem just as ridiculous and
progress-stifling to our children's children 100 years from now.

* Application of the precautionary principle to biotechnology --
as activists frequently seek -- would have negated tremendous recent
gains in global crop yields and nutrition, and would have negated
dramatic recent reductions in the need for pesticides.

* Application of the precautionary principle to biotechnology --
as activists frequently seek -- would have negated numerous life-
saving medical advances.

* The precautionary principle will outlaw many of the scientific
advancements that have come to define modern society.

* From an economic standpoint, studies show that application of
the precautionary principle in Europe has the effect of a 15 percent
tax on new capital investment.

Additional Sources:

Guldberg, H., "Challenging the Precautionary Principle," Spiked
Online, July 1, 2003.

Milloy, S., "U.S. Should Not Import European Laws," November 17,

"Precautionary Principle," Competitive Enterprise Institute.