The precautionary principle is the notion that if an activity raises the threat of harm to human health or the environment precautionary measures should be taken (Rosenbaum 2020). It is interesting to consider the precautionary principle in the context of the Federal Insecticide Fungicide Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), a provision permitting pesticides banned in the U.S. to be exported abroad. Even though there is appearance of health-based criteria determining risk, the policy decision is not fully oblivious to the financial costs involved. Sure there may not be restrictions in terms of the funding needed for scientists to evaluate substances, but in the case money was not at all a consideration, pesticides banned in the U.S. would not be allowed to be exported either. A challenge federal agencies might have in incorporating the precautionary principle into decision-making is that money is never truly out of the equation. The only way to be absolutely sure hazardous substances don’t return to the U.S. would be to use the precautionary principle in terms of halting production in the manufacturing stage and not allowing banned pesticides to be exported overseas.
Once there are chemicals in the environment and they are products in the marketplace, it is difficult to pull back. Considering some U.S. fruits and vegetables are imported from foreign countries, pesticides that are banned here are still entering our borders and being exposed to consumers through the residue on the produce. Moreover, creating the substance increases the risk pesticides are going to be sold back to U.S. consumers online. Products cannot be tested and tracked as accurately when they are internationally exchanged online. The zoom recording mentioned NGOS and environmental groups often employ scientists and issue reports as a way of raising issues or concerns. The 1964 amendments to FIFRA enable the USDA to cancel existing registered pesticides. However, the cancellation process is lengthy. Consequentially, there is now a large accumulation of deemed harmful substances out there and continuously being produced. That said, with a lack of the precautionary principle, the burden is on the consumer to learn as much as possible about products before purchasing them which is hard to control from the position of a policy maker. Therefore, I agree with using the precautionary principle in terms of FIFRA because it can be so hard to retract a policy during experimentation. However, the zoom recording mentioned one policy, such as installing a bike path, may have potential consequences more easily retractable. So, I would need to complete a thorough risk assessment on a case by case basis. It would allow me to determine what degree I should implement the precautionary principle.
Rosenbaum, Walter A. 2020. Environmental Politics and Policy, 11th Ed. Thousand Oaks, CA.: CQ Press, a Division of Sage.
Comment by Ashley Staat:
I enjoyed reading your take on the precautionary principle and the example with FIFRA. I can agree that the precautionary principle has some use in decision-making. I think it should be a foundational principle in the risk assessment process, because like you said, money is never out of the equation. But more often than not, money becomes the dominating influence in policy decisions, which ends up resulting in carved-out policies that don’t achieve the ultimate goal of agency mission statements like the EPA’s ”protection of the human health and the environment’. I think the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970 is an attempt at legislation based on the precautionary principle. It mandates agencies to handle uncertainties by making them complete environmental impact statements and assessments to evaluate risks posed by products and operations under federal agencies. Any significant risks must be mitigated (Kleiss 2003). Unfortunately, President Trump signed an executive order to let energy and infrastructure projects bypass parts of NEPA and the Endangered Species Act (Friedman, Lisa 2020). The good news is executive orders can be easily overturned by the next sitting president, so we can hope for that.
Friedman, Lisa. 2020. “Trump Weakens Major Conservation Law to Speed Construction Permits.” The New York Times, August 4, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/15/ climate/trump-environment-nepa.html (Links to an external site.).
Kleiss, Melanie E. 2003. “NEPA and Scientific Uncertainty: Using the Precautionary Principle to Bridge the Gap. Minnesota Law Review, 769. https://scholarship.law.umn.edu/cgi/viewcontent. cgi?article=1768&context=mlr
Comment by Joshua Martin:
FIFRA is a great example of why the precautionary principle can be very important to prevent long lasting and damaging impacts of chemicals. As you mentioned, although these chemicals are banned for sale in the United States, they are exported to other countries that use the pesticide on products being shipped to the United States. Consumers are still purchasing food that has been treated by pesticides that have been deemed dangerous to use on American soil. Something else that you mentioned, is that once it is on the market it is hard to get off the market. I know Amazon has had multiple issues by accidentally allowing band pesticides be sold on their website. They have so many vendors and products that is has become impossible for them to regulate what is being sold. I know oftentimes immigrants have come from countries where American banned pesticides are used. Now that they are in the United States, they go on Amazon to purchase that same pesticide that they are used to, not knowing that it is banned, nor of its harmful impacts. The precautionary principle would be huge in preventing such chemicals from even being disrupted at all.