- LAST REVIEWED: 15 June 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 19 March 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0046
- LAST REVIEWED: 15 June 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 19 March 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0046
Precautionary actions to protect health and ensure safety have always been an important part of public health practice. When hazards are well established with scientific evidence, precautionary action is most likely to receive consensus support. But when there are significant gaps in the scientific understanding of putative hazards, precautionary regulatory policies and recommendations to consumers are often controversial. Advocates for precautionary action against speculated threats have traditionally referred to commonsensical notions such as “better to be safe than sorry” and “better to err on the side of caution.” Since the 1970s, these notions have been codified into various formulations of the “precautionary principle” and have been invoked when scientific support is lacking as justifications for restricting specific technologies and requiring warnings. The precautionary principle has been applied to biotechnology, chemical pollutants, radiation exposure, food safety, medical technologies, occupational hazards, exposure to pathogenic organisms, and other public health concerns. International, national, local, and public health organizations have formally adopted frameworks for applying the precautionary principle. This bibliography is an introductory guide to diverse formulations, analyses, applications, controversies, and implications of the precautionary principle relevant to public health practice. It is multi-disciplinary with references to the literature of philosophy, ethics, law, economics, public policy, technology, risk analysis, toxicology, and other fields as well as public health.
A difficulty in studying the precautionary principle is that it has been formulated in a variety of ways with varying implications for when and how precautionary action should be implemented. No single formulation has been universally adopted. These references discuss influential statements that include definitions of the precautionary principle and analyses of various definitions. United Nations General Assembly 1992 offers one of the most frequently cited definitions. Sandin 1999 and Grandjean 2004 offer analyses of definitions combined with advocacy perspectives. Morris 2000 and Holdway 2009 offer analyses of definitions with an emphasis on difficulties for using them as a conceptual foundation for precautionary action. The influential Wingspread Consensus Statement on the Precautionary Principle issued at the conclusion of the 1998 Wingspread Conference on the Precautionary Principle defined the principle as: “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” (from Science and Environmental Health Network, cited under Activist Organizations).
Grandjean, Philippe. 2004. Implications of the precautionary principle for primary prevention and research. Annual Reviews Public Health 25:199–223.
Traces the history of precautionary action and inaction in public health in response to suggestive, but unconfirmed, hazards. Discusses many aspects of the precautionary principle including definition, critiques, statistical issues, and the future of precaution.
Holdway, Aaron. 2009. Reducing uncertainty: The need to clarify the key elements of the precautionary principle. Consilience: The Journal of Sustainable Development 1:37–54.
Discusses shortcomings of definitions regarding: level of threat that warrants action, level of evidence required to avoid taking precautionary action, range of actions to be taken, and level of force required of the actions.
Morris, Julian. 2000. Defining the precautionary principle. In Rethinking risk and the precautionary principle. Edited by Julian Morris, 1–21. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Historical overview of precautionary principle and critique of a range of definitions. Characterizes precautionary principle as “Pascal’s wager of the environment” and unnecessary. Argues that it leads to disingenuous demands for reversing the burden of proof and calls for overly broad duties to action that would hinder health-enhancing technological development.
Sandin, Per. 1999. Dimensions of the precautionary principle. Human and Ecological Risk Assessment 5.5: 889–907.
Compilation and analysis of definitions given by seventeen different agencies. Notes how definitions vary in precision and strength, but include as components threat, uncertainty, action, and mandate.
United Nations General Assembly. 1992. Report of The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Annex I, Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, 3–14 June 1992.
Principle 15 defines the precautionary approach as: Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.
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- Access to Health Care
- Action Research
- Active Aging
- Active Living
- Adolescent Risk-Taking Behavior in the United States
- Advocacy, Public Health
- Agricultural Safety and Public Health
- Air Quality: Health Effects
- Air Quality: Indoor Health Effects
- Alcohol Availability and Violence
- Alternative Research Designs
- Ambient Air Quality Standards and Guidelines
- American Perspectives on Chronic Disease and Control
- Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR)
- Asthma in Children
- Attachment as a Health Determinant
- Behavior Change Theory in Health Education and Promotion
- Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance
- Bicycling and Cycling Safety
- Birth and Death Registration
- Birth Cohort Studies
- Board of Health
- Built Environment and Health, The
- Business and Corporate Practices
- Cancer Communication Strategies in North America
- Cancer Prevention
- Cancer Screening
- Capacity Building
- Capacity Building for NCDs in LMICs
- Capacity-Building for Applied Public Health in LMIC: A US ...
- Cardiovascular Health and Disease
- Child Maltreatment
- Children, Air Pollution and
- Children, Injury Risk-Taking Behaviors in
- Children, Obesity in
- Citizen Advisory Boards
- Climate Change and Human Health
- Climate Change: Institutional Response
- Clinical Preventive Medicine
- Community Air Pollution
- Community Development
- Community Gardens
- Community Health Assessment
- Community Partnerships and Coalitions
- Community-Based Participatory Research
- Complexity and Systems Theory
- Definition of Health
- Dental Public Health
- Design and Health
- Dietary Guidelines
- Ecological Approaches
- Enabling Factors
- Environmental Laws
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Ethics of Public Health
- Evidence-Based Public Health Practice
- Family Planning Services and Birth Control
- Food Safety
- Food Security and Food Banks
- Food Systems
- Frail Elderly
- Functional Literacy
- Genomics, Public Health
- Geographic Information Systems
- Geography and Health
- Global Health
- Global Health Diplomacy
- Global Health Promotion
- Guide to Community Preventive Services, The
- Health Administration
- Health Communication
- Health Disparities
- Health Education
- Health Impact Assessment
- Health in All Policies
- Health in All Policies in European Countries
- Health Literacy
- Health Literacy and Non-Communicable Diseases
- Health Measurement Scales
- Health Planning
- Health Promoting Hospitals
- Health Promotion
- Health Promotion Workforce Capacity
- Healthy People Initiative
- Hepatitis C
- High Risk Prevention Strategies
- Human Rights, Health and
- Immigrant Populations
- Immunization and Pneumococcal Infection
- Indigenous Peoples, Public Health and
- Indigenous Populations of North America, Australasia, and ...
- Indoor Air Quality Guidelines
- Internet Applications in Promoting Health Behavior
- Intersectoral Strategies in Low - Middle Income Countries ...
- Justice, Social
- Knowledge Translation and Exchange
- Knowledge Utilization and Exchange
- Law of Public Health in the United States
- Media Advocacy
- Mental Health
- Mental Health Promotion
- Migrant Health
- Motor Vehicle Injury Prevention
- Multi-Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis
- National Association of Local Boards of Health
- National Public Health Institutions
- Needs Assessment
- Obesity Prevention
- Occupational Cancers
- Occupational Safety and Health
- Ottawa Charter
- Parenting and Work
- Parenting Skills and Capacity
- Participatory Action Research
- Patient Decision Making
- Pesticide Exposure and Pesticide Health Effects
- Physical Activity and Exercise
- Physical Activity Promotion
- Polio Eradication in Pakistan
- Population Aging
- Population Determinants of Unhealthy Foods and Beverages
- Population Health Objectives and Targets
- Precautionary Principle
- Prenatal Health
- Program Evaluation in American Health Education
- Program Planning and Evaluation
- Public Health, History of
- Public Health Surveillance
- Public-Private Partnerships in Public Health Research and ...
- Public-Private Partnerships to Prevent and Manage Obesity ...
- Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment
- Radiological and Nuclear Emergencies
- Randomized Controlled Trials
- Real World Evaluation Strategies
- Reducing Obesity-Related Health Disparities in Hispanic an...
- Rural Health in the United States
- Safety, Patient
- Sex Education in HIV/AIDS Prevention
- Skin Cancer Prevention
- Smoking Cessation
- Social Determinants of Health
- Social Epidemiology
- Social Marketing
- Statistics in Public Health
- Systems in the United States, Public Health
- Systems Theory in Public Health
- Traditional, Complementary, Alternative, and Integrative M...
- Translation of Science to Practice and Policy
- Traumatic Stress and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Tuberculosis among Adults and the Determinants of Health
- Unintentional Injury Prevention
- Urban Health
- Vaccine Hesitancy
- Violence Prevention
- Water Quality
- Water Quality and Water-Related Disease
- Weight Management in US Occupational Settings
- Worksite Health Promotion