The Precautionary Principle is a strategy to cope with possible risks where scientific understanding is yet incomplete, such as the risks of using pesticides available for use but lacking adequate safety testing and the synergistic toxicity of pesticide mixtures.
When human activities may lead to morally unacceptable harm that is scientifically plausible but uncertain, actions shall be taken to avoid or diminish that harm. Morally unacceptable harm refers to harm to humans or the environment that is
- threatening to human life or health, or - serious and effectively irreversible, or - inequitable to present or future generations, or - imposed without adequate consideration of the human rights of those affected.
The judgement of plausibility should be grounded in scientific analysis. Analysis should be ongoing so that chosen actions are subject to review. Uncertainty may apply to, but need not be limited to, causality or the bounds of the possible harm.
Actions are interventions that are undertaken before harm occurs that seek to avoid or diminish the harm. Actions should be chosen that are proportional to the seriousness of the potential harm, with consideration of their positive and negative consequences, and with an assessment of the moral implications of both action and inaction. The choice of action should be the result of a participatory process.
We believe policymakers would be wise to use the precautionary principle in their approach to pesticides and land management.