The Application of the Precautionary Principle in Practice
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print Publication Year: 2010
Online Publication Date:November 2010
Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511779862.009
The development and status of the precautionary principle in the United States
That the US view of the precautionary principle differs significantly from the view advocated by the EU is apparent from recent international trade conflicts, as well as from the official rhetoric from both sides of the Atlantic. The American authorities tend to argue that the EU version of the precautionary principle slows down scientific and technological development and hinders international trade. Where the EU is seen as risk averse, the USA appears to require firm scientific evidence of harm before recognising the need for regulation. Babich has held that the American mentality is not predisposed to precautionary considerations:
US culture embraces change and risk. Our heroes look forward – entrepreneurs and inventors that create what we have barely imagined, athletes who break physical boundaries, and stars of music and film who transcend behavioral conventions. The precautionary principle is not at the core of our national character.
In the same vein, the New York Times held in 2003 that ‘precaution is for Europeans’.
However, the facts do not seem to match the rhetoric. In fact, historically, the USA has acted in as precautionary a manner as the EU, if not more so. US environmental legislation of the 1970s went a long way to establishing a form of the precautionary principle in many areas. Agencies and courts have interpreted statutes in order to afford precautionary considerations even greater weight. Applegate has held that:
[p]recaution is clearly one of the principal goals of congress in drafting and of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in administering environmental legislation.