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The E.U.’s Precautionary Principle of Product Safety Pays Off

In an article on Grist this week, Jason D. Scorse, referred to Mark Schapiro’s work in the book Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power, when building an argument that the E.U.’s precautionary approach to product safety regulation is paying off with respect to health and environmental safety, and also economically.

From the article:

Faced with this great uncertainty, different types of regulatory schemes have developed. The U.S. model puts more of the onus on those who think a chemical or process poses a risk to prove that it does, while in the E.U. the onus is more on the producers to prove that compounds of processes are safe; the E.U. model is based more on the “precautionary principle.”

As Mark Schapiro’s excellent work has demonstrated, the E.U. model seems to be paying dividends not only with respect to health and environmental safety, but also economically; as the E.U.’s market share grows, companies around the world are ratcheting up their environmental standards in order to meet stricter E.U. guidelines. In turn, the E.U. now is much more influential in setting world standards than the U.S., which used to be the leader. This is a great development that environmentalists and economists should take not of: high environmental standards can be compatible with increased trade, productivity, and market share.

The E.U. system still relies on a benefit-cost calculus at some level; those chemicals which offer the greatest benefit to industry and the least risk to society (but still greater than zero) are banned or limited much less than those chemicals whose benefits are less and whose risks much more apparent. But there is no doubt that the scale in the E.U. is weighted more heavily to public and environmental safety.

In my view, this is how it should be; in our modern and wealthy age, with our great propensity for innovation, we should be quicker to limit potentially damaging products and processes and insist on the development of cleaner and safer alternatives.

Read the whole article here.


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