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Problems in applying the precautionary principle to public health
  1. Bernard D Goldstein
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor B D Goldstein
 Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh, 130 DeSoto Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA; bdgold{at}pitt.edu

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Commentary on the editorial by Martuzzi (see page 569)

In a short commentary it is hard to find room for the many positives about Martuzzi’s editorial supporting the use of the precautionary principle to achieve public health goals.1 The precautionary principle is part of the admirable re-evaluation by the European Union of the relation between individual, community, nation, region and globe in a modern world. We all need to pay respectful attention.

Achieving the desired positive impacts of applying the precautionary principle to public health requires that advocates confront the following issues:

1. EXPLAIN WHAT THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE ADDS TO LONGSTANDING CORE PUBLIC HEALTH PRINCIPLES

The vagaries of defining the precautionary principle present obstacles to its application to public health. Martuzzi tries to help by distinguishing between prevention, which he relates to known causes, and precaution which “is more relevant for uncertain determinants, complex scenarios, suspected risk factors, unpredictable circumstances”. This distinction does not accord with longstanding core public health …

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