Keywords: precautionary principle, institutions, risk, uncertainty, regulation, trade, development, environment, health
The precautionary principle and biotechnology
Risk is ubiquitous and not necessarily bad. Risk management means balancing risks and benefits, or balancing risks one against another. Well-characterised catastrophic risks should be avoided. Poorly characterised potential catastrophes should be approached differently. Uncertainty must not be equated with risk. Decisions regarding the development and marketing of new technologies take place within a complex web of formal and informal institutions. To this, some groups have been attempting to add the "precautionary principle" (PP). However, the PP is not an appropriate tool for decision making under uncertainty. Application of the PP would actually create uncertainty and thereby undermine attempts to reduce risks; it would slow down economic growth and harm especially the poorest people in society. Applying the PP to biotechnology would lead to arbitrary - rather than scientifically justifiable - restrictions on the use of this most beneficial technology.