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Precautionary Principle

The concept of the precautionary principle was first set out in a Commission communication adopted in February 2000 on recourse to the precautionary principle, in which it defined this concept and envisaged how it would be applied.

This text complements the White Paper on Food Safety (January 2000) and the agreement concluded in February 2000 in Montreal on the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

In this document, the Commission sets out the specific cases where this principle is applicable:

  • where the scientific data are insufficient, inconclusive or uncertain;
  • where a preliminary scientific evaluation shows that potentially dangerous effects for the environment and human, animal or plant health can reasonably be feared.

In both cases, the risks are incompatible with the high level of protection sought by the European Union.

The Communication also sets out the three rules which need to be followed for the precautionary principle to be observed:

  • a complete scientific evaluation carried out by an independent authority in order to determine the degree of scientific uncertainty;
  • an assessment of the potential risks and the consequences of inaction;
  • the participation, under conditions of maximum transparency, of all the interested parties in the study of possible measures.

The Commission would also like to point out that the measures resulting from recourse to the precautionary principle may take the form of a decision to act or not to act, depending on the level of risk considered "acceptable". The Union had applied this precautionary principle in the area of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), for instance, with the adoption of a moratorium on their commercialisation between 1999 and 2004.

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