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The precautionary principle and its legal implications in the area of food safety

Author(s) : H. Belvèze

Summary :

The concept of the ‘precautionary principle’ is not independent of the general principles of risk assessment and cannot be used as a justification for circumventing the legal obligations established at international level by World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements. On the contrary, the principle, which allows policy-makers to act without waiting until all the relevant scientific information is available, is included in the discipline established by the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) and confirmed by jurisprudence. Sanitary measures adopted provisionally in a context of scientific uncertainty should nevertheless endeavour to comply with the general principles of risk management established by the SPS Agreement, i.e. they should be appropriate, non-discriminatory, consistent and not more trade-restrictive than required. The Codex Alimentarius has been working for several years to develop a set of principles for the application of risk assessment, including the precautionary principle when information is insufficient or incomplete. These principles will serve as a guide first for the work of the Codex and subsequently for governments. The European Union has made provision for the application of the precautionary principle, in accordance with circumstances, in Community food legislation, while remaining in compliance with the legal obligations stemming from the SPS Agreement.

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