US firms lobby EU over risk, precaution

EU Committee cites "grave concerns" over forthcoming EU precautionary principle paper

American firms operating in the EU have launched a strong attack on the precautionary principle as the European Commission prepares to publish a communication on the subject. The communication is expected to lead to greater use being made of the principle in EU policy making on environmental and health issues.

According to the EU Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce, the Commission should "examine in more detail" how risk is to be dealt with in future "before finalising its thinking" on how the precautionary principle is to apply.

The precautionary principle "is not...a scientific principle, nor is there a generally accepted definition of the term," the EU Committee claims. There is "grave concern" among Committee members, it goes on, that applying a "separate and additional" precautionary principle could lead to a politicisation of science. Policies based on such a principle might not be consistent with world trade rules or be used for protectionist purposes, the association suggests.

Rather than adopting a new precautionary principle, the Committee believes, the EU should consider a broader risk analysis process. It goes on to recommend a framework for risk analysis, based on a system first developed by the US National Academy of Sciences in 1983, which it says could cut through current concerns and conflicts in the debate on risk.

The Committee suggests that a risk analysis framework should contain four separate phases. First, there should be initial risk identification. Secondly, a risk assessment phase, which it describes as the "cornerstone on which fundamental scientific decisions are based". The Committee also stresses that risk assessment should remain "functionally separate" from the third stage, which is risk management. Risk management decisions, it adds, should "incorporate the principles of proportionality". A fourth step, it says, should be risk communication.

"The precautionary principle is just one small element of the wider process of risk analysis," one of the paper's authors told ENDS Daily. "The EU should be trying to develop a horizontal approach across a number of different area, including environment," she added.

Follow Up:
EU Committee, tel: +32 2 513 6892.

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