WARNING! Excessive use of the Precautionary Principle may be bad
By Lykke E. Andersen*,
The Precautionary Principle basically says that we should not do
something unless we are sure it will have no harmful or
potentially harmful side-effects.
On the face of it, that may sound reasonable, but in reality it
is a one-sided consideration, which completely ignores the
benefits or potential benefits of any action/product/invention.
The Principle does not weigh benefits against costs; it just
says that if there are any costs at all, the action should not
be carried out. For example, a new invention which could benefit
millions of people, but also might possibly harm a few (people
or other species) in the process, should be banned according to
the Precautionary Principle.
If the Precautionary Principle had been enforced at the time of
the invention of the wheel, the wheel would surely have been
banned, especially if the people of that time had had the
imagination to foresee all the death and destruction this
invention has caused in terms of traffic accidents,
contamination, environmental destruction, obesity, etc.
A more modern example is Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs),
which have the potential to substantially increase crop yields,
to reduce the need for expensive and dangerous herbicides and
pesticides, and to make food products healthier, tastier and
more nutritious, as well. This should be good news if you are
worried about hunger in the third world, protection of the
environment, and/or your own health. Still, many people and
organizations are opposed to the use of genetically enhanced
crops, frequently citing the Precautionary Principle
Every single invention (indeed every single action) between the
invention of the wheel and the GMOs has some risk associated
with it. If it were not for billions of brave persons willing to
take a risk and willing to violate the Principle, we would all
be living in the stone-age, walking around paralyzed.
Unless stone-age living is your ideal way of living, you should
be very cautious in the application of the Precautionary