What is a precautionary approach?

Category: Next Steps

The precautionary principle is based on a statement from the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, which states “In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.” The Preamble to the Convention on Biological Diversity also states, “Where there is a threat of significant reduction or loss of biological diversity, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to avoid or minimize such a threat.” The precautionary principle is often interpreted to mean that if there is uncertainty regarding whether a new technology may cause harm to the environment, it should not be introduced. Therefore, while the principle of precaution as written refers to affirmative action to prevent damage to biodiversity, in the case of GMOs (LMOs), it has been applied to prevent actions that have the potential to harm biodiversity when uncertainty about safety remains.

This perspective assumes that the status quo always is preferable to a new activity that may carry risks.

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