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 13: The Tension between Fiction and Precaution in Nanotechnology

Arie Rip


13. The tension between fiction and precaution in nanotechnology Arie Rip1 The precautionary principle stands midway between a general philosophy of precaution and prudential approaches, and specific legal and regulatory provisions and their implementation. The European Union has taken the lead in articulating such a principle (Commission of the European Communities 2000), and von Schomberg (see chapter 2 in this volume) has offered a comprehensive formulation: Where, following an assessment of available scientific information, there are reasonable grounds for concern for the possibility of adverse effects but scientific uncertainty persists, provisional risk management measures based on a broad cost-benefit analysis whereby priority will be given to human health and the environment, necessary to ensure the chosen high level of protection in the Community and proportionate to this level of protection, may be adopted, pending further scientific information for a more comprehensive risk assessment, without having to wait until the reality and seriousness of those adverse effects become fully apparent [my italics]. Such a precautionary principle is not immediately applicable to nanotechnology. Firstly, nanotechnology is an umbrella term for a range of enabling technologies, rather than a coherent set of processes and products which can be assessed in terms of adverse effects. In this respect, it differs from biotechnology and genomics, with which it tends to be compared in terms of societal impact and public responses. Secondly, it is still quite uncertain which options will be developed and which applications can...

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