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Precautionary Approach

Last updated: 06/04/2011

There are many definitions of the precautionary principle. Precaution, in the dictionaries, is caution in advance, or ‘caution practised in the context of uncertainty’. It is a moral and political principle stating that precaution should be taken in management of resources when information and data is scarce.

If you cannot predict the result of an action, the action should not be taken.

In February 2000, the European Commission issued a Communication on the precautionary principle, in which it adopted a procedure for the application of this concept, but without giving a detailed definition of it. After the adoption of the precautionary principle, the principle has come to influence much EU policy, including that in areas beyond that of environmental policy.

Several natural resources like fish stocks are now managed by the precautionary approach, based upon the precautionary principle. In classifying endangered species, the precautionary principle means that if there is doubt about an animal’s or plant’s exact conservation status, the one that would cause the strongest protective measures to be realised should be chosen.

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