Advancing a Free Society

Precaution Without Principle

Thursday, September 1, 2011

(with Alan McHughen)

In recent decades Europeans have suffered a series of food safety setbacks that have roiled public opinion.  These have resulted variously from shoddy animal husbandry practices (BSE, or “Mad Cow” disease), negligence (the recent E. coli O401 contamination of organic sprouts) and criminal enterprises (benzene in Perrier water, anti-freeze in wines).

Chastened by such threats and confronted with the prospect of what some call “Frankenfoods” — that is, food derived from genetically engineered new varieties of plants — European consumers have welcomed strict safety regulations based on a postmodern concept called “the precautionary principle.” According to this principle,  governments are encouraged to regulate actions that raise conjectural threats of harm to human health or the environment — even if the probability or potential significance of these dangers is uncertain or negligible.

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