Perspectives and Prospects
Edited by Elizabeth Fisher, Judith Jones and René von Schomberg
Chapter 10: Precautionary Only in Name? Tensions between Precaution and Risk Assessment in the Australian GMO Regulatory Framework
* Jacqueline Peel INTRODUCTION More than a decade on from the enunciation of ‘Principle 15’ in the Rio Declaration,1 debate regarding the precautionary principle is shifting from issues of scope and deﬁnition to questions of implementation. Notions of precaution now advanced – including that in this chapter – emphasize the role of the principle as a broad framework for decision making, directed to anticipating possible adverse eﬀects that, although scientiﬁc uncertainty persists, are cause for reasonable concern. In Australia, as elsewhere in the world, support is growing for a concept of precaution that focuses on the responsiveness of health and environmental decision-making processes to scientiﬁc uncertainty (Fisher and Harding, 2001). This represents a departure from more conventional understandings of precaution, which have seen its operation as dependent upon ‘threshold’ ﬁndings of some minimal level of risk, variously expressed as a ‘non-negligible threat of harm’ (Cameron and Abouchar, 1996, p. 44) or a risk of ‘reasonable scientiﬁc plausibility’ (de Sadeleer, 2002, p. 160). Moving from thresholds of risk as a basis for precautionary measures, to an approach concentrating on the process by which determinations of risk are reached in circumstances of scientiﬁc uncertainty, highlights potential tensions between the implementation of precaution and orthodox ‘science-based’ decision-making processes of risk assessment. In particular, I argue that a focus on the decision-making process required for implementation of precaution reveals the importance of exposing risk assessment to a broader range of views * A more detailed version of the argument in this...
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