Implementing the Precautionary Principle
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Implementing the Precautionary Principle

Perspectives and Prospects

Edited by Elizabeth Fisher, Judith Jones and René von Schomberg

This challenging book takes a broad and thought-provoking look at the precautionary principle and its implementation, or potential implementation, in a number of fields. In particular, it explores the challenges faced by public decision-making processes when applying the precautionary principle, including its role in risk management and risk assessment. Frameworks for improved decision-making are considered, followed by a detailed analysis of prospective applications of the precautionary principle in a number of emerging fields including: nanotechnology, climate change, natural resource management and public health policy. The analysis is both coherent and interdisciplinary, employing perspectives from law, the social sciences and public policy with a view to improving both the legitimacy and effectiveness of public policy at national and international levels.
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Chapter 10: Precautionary Only in Name? Tensions between Precaution and Risk Assessment in the Australian GMO Regulatory Framework

Jacqueline Peel


* 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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