John N. Hathcock
Council for Responsible Nutrition

The precautionary principle originated in environmental risk management to provide regulatory authority to stop specific environmental contaminations without waiting for conclusive evidence of harm to the environment (i.e., while there was still “uncertainty” about the evidence). Attempts to apply this concept to “proof of safety” for new food ingredients or products has led to the impossible demand of establishing the “absence of harm,” with a level of evidence that avoids uncertainty. Any requirement to establish safety with no uncertainty will increase costs unnecessarily, and will prove futile. Such actions would allow arbitrary regulatory decisions to stop new products, ultimately causing actual harm rather than protecting consumers, by denying beneficial products or by substituting a significant harm in place of a small theoretical one.

Key words: Precautionary principle; precaution; uncertainty; food safety; Rio Declaration; SPS Agreement.