The precautionary principle ensures that the potentially negative effects of new innovations and technological developments are considered without hindering the creation process. On the opposite side there is the principle of innovation which, whenever precautionary measures are considered, also considers potential effects on the obstruction of new developments and thus complements the precautionary principle. The new RECIPES project deals with the legal and political approaches of both principles and involves stakeholders. Eleven European partners are involved in the project; the ITA will carry out the case study on nanotechnology.
In situations of scientific uncertainty, in particular where human health, including the environment, is at risk, precautions must be taken. The precautionary principle, which is now recognised as a general principle in the EU, can be found in the EU Treaty, in various EU regulations and directives, in various national legal systems and in several international treaties.
Principles of precaution and innovation
The precautionary principle is often presented as an anti-science principle which leads to excessive caution and may hamper scientific creativity and technological innovation. This would promote an unjustified or at least disproportionate fear of technological development and the future of our society and suppress innovation. To counter this assumption, a so-called "innovation principle" has been developed as a complementary element to the precautionary principle. This ensures that potential effects on innovations are taken into account whenever precautions are taken.
The project "RECIPES - REconciling sCience, Innovation and Precaution through the Engagement of Stakeholders" will analyse the legal and policy approaches to the precautionary principle at international, EU and national level and describe the emergence of the "innovation principle". The implementation of the precautionary principle will be exemplarily illustrated by eight case studies dealing with much discussed topics such as nanotechnology, glyphosate, endocrine disruptors, gene editing techniques, etc.
In addition, the project aims to develop new instruments for the application of the precautionary principle, taking into account the principle of innovation. This includes the involvement of stakeholders in all phases of research. Stakeholders will develop scenarios for the future application of the precautionary principle and help develop new tools and approaches to the precautionary principle to assist policy makers and other stakeholders in assessing risks and uncertainties and to allow for case-by-case decisions on how to make responsible decisions about precaution and innovation.
Following the controversy over genetically modified food, the need for a different approach to regulating hard-to-anticipate new technologies became clear. This requires an approach for regulating new technologies with risks that cannot be fully characterised. This is what the precautionary principle stands for. An example of the successful implementation of the precautionary principle is the national NanoTrust project, which has been running since 2007 and has developed into a continuous accompanying process, as the technology and the regulatory situation change over time. By establishing and maintaining an interdisciplinary network of experts, regulators and stakeholders, NanoTrust is a fixed component of the Austrian nano-risk governance landscape and serves the nanocommunity as a catalyst, initiator and independent platform for the safety discourse.
The consortium consists of 11 partners from all geographical regions of Europe. This project brings together the academic expertise on the precautionary principle of three leading research institutions, namely the University of Maastricht, the University of Bergen and Humboldt-University zu Berlin. Furthermore, three of the most important institutes for technology assessment are involved in this project, the Rathenau Institute, the Danish Board of Technology and the Austrian Academy of Sciences, represented by the Institute for Technology Assessment. The other partners come from the non-profit sector, Dialogik, Ecologic, IASS-Potsdam, ARC-FUND and K&I.
The ITA will carry out the case study on nanotechnology and present the successful governance of new developments based on the long-standing NanoTrust project.