The Science and Environmental Health Network

Precautionary Principle, Understanding Science in Regulation



The Science and Environmental Health Network is working to implement the precautionary principle as a basis for environmental and public health policy. The principle and the main components of its implementation are stated this way in the 1998 Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle:

"When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action." - Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle, Jan. 1998

The precautionary principle, virtually unknown here six years ago, is now a U.S. phenomenon. In December 2001 the New York Times Magazine listed the principle as one of the most influential ideas of the year, describing the intellectual, ethical, and policy framework SEHN had developed around the principle.

In June 2003, the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco became the first government body in the United States to make the precautionary principle the basis for all its environmental policy.

Read Frequently Asked Questions for a quick overview of the precautionary principle or this White Paper for full background.

Understanding the Role of Science in Regulation. The Wingspread Statement and the European Union in Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 117 Number 3 March 2009.