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The essence of the precautionary principle is captured in common sense aphorisms such as "look before you leap", "mieux vaut prevenir que guerir" or "better safe than sorry", that form part of popular knowledge since long ago. In contrast, public policy in Europe and the US has until recently been guided by different principles-perhaps best reflected by other aphorisms such as "nothing ventured, nothing gained". During recent years, the use of science-based risk analysis became the cornerstone onto which policy decisions were based.

However, the limitations of available scientific knowledge to inform political decisions in sensitive issues (e.g., sustainability, toxic chemicals, food safety) leads to the recognition of the precautionary principle by policy makers and by society as a whole. In other words, the realization that the current risk analysis paradigm is incomplete and can not be effectively applied when the supporting scientific base is weak, has made apparent the need to use precaution in decision making when important societal values are at stake. The precautionary principle is therefore an additional tool in the hands of regulators which complements the generally accepted risk analysis process, compensating for the vacuum left by incomplete scientific knowledge. .

Additional information

Authors: MARTIN J.M, EC-JRC (IT);HERRERO A, Programme Directorate-JRC, Brussels (BE)
Bibliographic Reference: An oral report given at: Brdiging the Gap Conference. Organised by: SEPA, EU and EEA. Held in: Stockholm (SE), 9-11 May 2001
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