The precautionary principle is viewed as highly important by environmentalists, who see it as a powerful rationale for taking risk reduction measures before full scientific proof of risk is available. Commission officials have been drafting definitions of the precautionary principle for over a year, but because of differences in opinion between the environment directorate on one side and the consumer and enterprise directorates on the other, there has been difficulty in finding consensus on the issue (ENDS Daily 26 April).
A document prepared by the consumer directorate last year stresses that risk reduction measures must be based on a risk assessment and that they should be temporary, proportional and cost-effective. The environment directorate's draft is far less clear on these elements and puts more stress on the need to take swift action when a risk is perceived.
Mr Prodi explained to MEPs that the communication would aim to resolve grey areas about when risks could be judged serious enough to take precautionary measures: "How much of a health concern must there be, and in whose mind, before a trade restrictive measure is introduced on the basis of the precautionary principle, and how complete must our scientific knowledge be before the measure is dropped?" he said.
In the same speech, Mr Prodi said he had made food safety a "top priority" for the new EU Commission and was putting great emphasis on the right of consumers to get clear information about food, including whether they contained genetically modified organisms. He also suggested that that the EU should consider setting up an independent European food agency, which might even be modelled on the powerful US Food and Drug Administration. The food safety white paper would aim to make sure there was a "coherent and up-to-date body of food legislation by 2002," he said.
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111.
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