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REconciling sCience, Innovation and Precaution through the Engagement of Stakeholders

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - RECIPES (REconciling sCience, Innovation and Precaution through the Engagement of Stakeholders)

Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2020-03-31

The precautionary principle guides decision-makers faced with risks, scientific uncertainty and public concerns. As a general principle of EU law, it allows decision-makers to adopt precautionary measures even if scientific uncertainties about environmental and health impacts of new technologies or products remain. Hence, the precautionary principle encourages early and forward-looking action to minimise risks. Critics of the precautionary principle argue, however, that it promotes excessive caution and hinders technological innovation. The RECIPES project, funded by the European Commission, is based on the idea that the application of the precautionary principle and responsible innovation do not necessarily contradict each other. Building on this idea, the RECIPES project (“REconciling sCience, Innovation and Precaution through the Engagement of Stakeholders”) aims to develop tools and guidelines to ensure the precautionary principle is applied while still encouraging responsible innovation. The RECIPES project is working closely with stakeholders through interviews, workshops and webinars.
The RECIPES project consists of four phases. First, in the framing phase of the project, the RECIPES Consortium will examine the notions of precaution and the precautionary principle as well as the effect and the application of the precautionary principle at international, EU and national level, since the Commission Communication on the Precautionary Principle in 2000. This stock-taking exercise also comprises an analysis of the notions innovation and the ‘innovation principle’ as well as an analysis of recent and on-going controversies to understand competing interests and concerns of stakeholders and citizens. Second, taking into account the results of the stocktaking exercise, the RECIPES project analyses in nine case studies the application of the precautionary principle in different areas. This case study analysis forms the basis for the development of scenarios for the future of the precautionary principle and innovation in the third phase of RECIPES. The purpose of the scenarios is to highlight potentials and risks of allowing either precaution or innovation to dominate the development of law and governance in relation to new and emerging technologies. To this end, the RECIPES project will co-create scenarios with stakeholders. Fourth, the RECIPES project will identify tools and guidelines for implementing the precautionary principle and balancing it with innovation, in co-operation with stakeholders and citizens. RECIPES will develop general and sector-specific recommendations for the application of the precautionary principle whilst encouraging responsible innovation.
All information on the RECIPES project can be found on the website https://recipes-project.eu/.
RECIPES has completed the first phase of the project.
RECIPES has published the report ‘Taking stock of the implementation of the precautionary principle since 2000’. This reports presents an overview of the discussions and reflections on the precautionary principle in the literature and its application in law and practice since 2000. The RECIPES report demonstrates the clear relevance of the precautionary principle at international, EU and national level. However, a lack of clear guidelines for the implementation of the precautionary principle results in different interpretations and applications across countries and policy areas. EU law, case law and the Commission Communication on the Precautionary Principle also give little guidance as to how to apply the precautionary principle. The absence of a uniform interpretation allows for a flexible use of the principle, allowing application to a broad range of policy fields, but also leaves stakeholders with a lack of legal certainty. The RECIPES report also reflects on the notions innovation and the ‘innovation principle’.
RECIPES performed a media analysis for the Süddeutsche Zeitung in Germany, Le Monde in France and The Guardian in the UK. The analysis confirmed that the precautionary principle is understood in different ways by different spokespersons. The analysis also showed that the precautionary principle is most relevant in relation to nature/biodiversity conservation and health risks; that the precautionary principle is part of a controversy over what ‘good science’ and scientific uncertainty implies and that the precautionary principle is a controversial topic in international trade debates. Few articles were found on the relation between precaution and innovation. In these articles the argument that precaution hinders innovation as well as the argument that precaution steers innovation in a more sustainable direction is advanced.
In addition, RECIPES organised citizen meetings in Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Italy and Bulgaria. The goal of these meetings was to incorporate citizens’ views and concerns into the project and to prepare the ground for the later involvement of stakeholders, during the next steps of the project. Among the major findings in the citizen meetings was that participants did not see precaution and innovation as being in contradiction with each other and that the precautionary principle was recognized as an appropriate tool to regulate uncertainties arising from the development of technologies. Furthermore, a general view was that stakeholders and citizens should be widely involved in the process when applying the precautionary principle.
In the current, second phase of the project, the RECIPES researchers are analysing the application of the precautionary principle in nine case studies. The nine case studies all represent issues with high stakes and are particularly well suited for illuminating the complexity and controversy around the precautionary principle. The case studies cover: new gene editing techniques (CRISPR-Cas9); GMOs; endocrine disruptors; neonicotinoid insecticides; nano-technologies; glyphosate, financial risks in water infrastructure planning; the use of artificial intelligence in healthcare; and microplastic in relation to human health effects. The aim is to understand and explain the differences in the application of the precautionary principle in these case studies, in a way that reflects the particular context of the case and the arguments for invoking the precautionary principle.
RECIPES’ research is very topical. RECIPES has gained a thorough empirical insight in the application of the precautionary principle in different areas both at European and at Member State level. This has deepened transdisciplinary understanding of tensions and synergies between precaution and innovation. This knowledge is essential for the development of RECIPES’ tools and guidelines which accommodate and solve the perceived tensions between precaution, innovation and science. RECIPES researchers expect that the research will improve evidence-informed risk governance in Europe by providing useful tools to help regulators and decision-makers when dealing with new and emerging risks, well beyond the RECIPES case studies. An example could be the current COVID-19 pandemic. RECIPES’ consortium partners plan to write a discussion paper based on the lessons learned from the RECIPES research on the precautionary principle. Such lessons may add to ongoing learnings from combatting the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance with regard to the question as to how to better prepare for emerging risks and crises.