A4.7.1 Precautionary Principle


The Precautionary Principle is for example, where you suspect a chemical of having detrimental effects until it is proved otherwise.

The Precautionary Principle (PP) is essentially deeming something to be harmful until you know otherwise. In some EU legislation, the PP is a legal requirement.

This principle allows policy makers to make discretionary decisions in situations where there is the possibility of harm from taking a particular course or making a certain decision when extensive scientific knowledge on the matter is lacking. The principle implies that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk. These protections can be relaxed only if further scientific findings emerge that provide sound evidence that no harm will result.

According to Europa, the PP is informed by three specific principles:

  1. the fullest possible scientific evaluation, the determination, as far as possible, of the degree of scientific uncertainty;
  2. a risk evaluation and an evaluation of the potential consequences of inaction;
  3. the participation of all interested parties in the study of precautionary measures, once the results of the scientific evaluation and/or the risk evaluation are available.


In addition, the general principles of risk management remain applicable when the precautionary principle is invoked. These are the following five principles:

  1. proportionality between the measures taken and the chosen level of protection;
  2. non-discrimination in application of the measures;
  3. consistency of the measures with similar measures already taken in similar situations or using similar approaches;
  4. examination of the benefits and costs of action or lack of action;
  5. review of the measures in the light of scientific developments.


The burden of proof

In most cases, European consumers and the associations which represent them must demonstrate the danger associated with a procedure or a product placed on the market, except for medicines, pesticides and food additives.

However, in the case of an action being taken under the precautionary principle, the producer, manufacturer or importer may be required to prove the absence of danger. This possibility shall be examined on a case-by-case basis. It cannot be extended generally to all products and procedures placed on the market.