loosely defined. However, he noted that the use of the precautionary principle in a legal framework suggests the need for further scrutiny.

The basics of risk assessment comprise hazard identification, dose-response evaluation, human exposure evaluation, and risk characterization. Currently, there is some debate as to whether the precautionary principle is already incorporated into risk assessment, should be incorporated into risk assessment, or if the precautionary principle and risk assessment are completely antithetical. Individuals such as Joel Tickner and Lee Ketelsen (2001) and Mary O’Brian (O’Brian, 2000) question current approaches to risk assessment and lay out the argument for the use of the precautionary principle. O’Brian noted that risk assessment obscures and removes the fundamental right to say “no” to unnecessary poisoning of one’s body and environment. Goldstein noted that these statements suggest that risk assessment has failed and we need a new approach.

However, Goldstein questioned the use of the precautionary principle used by Europeans. Although the EU has stated its support of the principle, it has carefully avoided defining it. Some individuals, he noted, question whether the precautionary principle is intentionally nebulous so the EU can use it to form trade barriers. For example, the European Union used the precautionary principle to develop the most stringent aflatoxin standard in the world (European Commission, 1997). It excluded $700 million of sub-Saharan produce to the advantage of European growers. The difference in risk is less than one cancer incident per year in Europe (Majone, 2002). In another example, based on the precautionary principle, the European Union banned imports of all beef from hormone-treated cattle, even though the European Union’s own scientific committees did not find risk. The European Union lost this World Trade Organization case primarily due to the lack of risk assessment, as well as an inconsistent application of the precautionary principle seemingly to form a trade barrier. Goldstein further noted that these types of cases are going to continue with genetically modified foods and with other health and safety issues for which the EU uses the precautionary principle to form trade barriers. These cases are generalizations, but illustrate the different approaches to risk taken by the United States and by Europe. One obvious difference is that Europe does a better job of coupling environmental and trade policies. Further, one of the driving forces in the development of the precautionary principle in Europe has been a growing distrust of government and science as a result of mad cow disease, the French hemophilia scandal, and others.

The definition of the precautionary principle used by Europeans is not fully defined for legal purposes. Some individuals question if the precautionary principle is something nebulous to erect trade barriers.


—Bernard Goldstein



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