Introduction the magnitude of the harmful effect

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Following the global technological advancements, human activities have led to the emission of harmful substances to the environment. The initial attempt to eliminate the production of these pollutants occurred in Germany during the 1970s, and led to the formulation of one of the versions of the precautionary principle.

The German Federal Environmental Legislation aimed at eliminating toxic gases emitted from large combustion plants. Since then, the principle has gained popularity across the world. Up to date, the principle does not have an internationally accepted definition.

However, through the incorporation of various aspects of the different versions of the principle, scientists, philosophers, lawyers and environmentalists have formulated the most popular definition of the principle. The principle applies in environmental and food policies in relation to trade agreements. This paper elucidates the application and the acceptability of the principle around the globe.

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Application of the Principle

Many applications of the precautionary principle rely on the most popular version. The version states that, “When an activity raises threats or harm to human health or to the environment, precautionary measures need to be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically” (Burnett 378).

The principle is useful in the analysis of risks. The analysis includes the assessment, management as well as the communication of risks. According to Konig, a risk is the product of the probability of the occurrence of harm and the magnitude of the harmful effect of a process or a product (128). After identifying the risk, the government and corporate bodies take some measures to ensure the safety of the people and the environment.

Depending on the severity of the risk, the measures may include banning or regulating the use of the product or process in question. They may also formulate control measures on the use of life threatening products and processes. The principle is mostly relevant in the field of food production and the in the formulation of environmental laws and policies.

Despite the usefulness of the principle, it has not yet attained total global acceptability. For instance, the US has denied complete incorporation of the principle in its laws restricting its application to the Toxic Substances Control Act (Burnett 384).

The nations that have adopted the principle include South Africa, Cameroon, Ecuador and Australia. In addition, the European Union has the precautionary principle as part of its founding document and forms the basis of the environmental and community policies in the Union. One of the aspects that cause the difference in the adoption of the principle include claims that science is not able to substantiate the magnitude of future harm using the modern technological advancements or novel innovations (Cooney 358).

Moreover, some people argue that it is the government’s responsibility to restrict the use of potentially harmful substances, technologies and processes. The government should only allow technologies and applications that are safe to both human beings and the environment.


The precautionary principle originated from Germany in the 1970s. Its main aim is to protect people and the environment from potentially harmful substances, processes and technologies.

Although the principle has found worldwide acceptability, there is no a single internationally acceptable formulation or rather definition of the principle. This calls for the need of professionals from different states to embark on the formulation of a globally acceptable definition to enhance its effectiveness in eliminating hazardous substances and processes.

Works cited

Cooney, Rosie. “Better Safe than Sorry? The Precautionary Principle and Biodiversity Conservation.” Oryx 38. 4 (2004): 357-358. Print.

Konig, Arianne. “Towards a Common Understanding of the Precautionary Principle?” Foreign Policy Bulletin 11.1 (2000): 127-136. Print.

Burnett, Sterling. “Understanding the Precautionary Principle and its Threat to Human Welfare.” Social Philosophy and Policy 26. 2 (2009): 378-410. Print.

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