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The precautionary principle in the context of multiple risks
  1. L Rushton
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr L Rushton
 Imperial College London, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Faculty of Medicine, Room UG40, St Mary’s Campus, Norfolk Place, London W1 2PG, UK; l.rushton{at}

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Commentary on the editorial by Martuzzi (see page 569)

The precautionary principle plays a central role in the world of risk assessment and risk management. Two common but seemingly opposing approaches are: proactively regulate risks and endorse the precautionary principle, that is, better safe than sorry;1 wait for evidence of actual harm before regulation. The latter view would not be shared by those who favour risk avoidance.2 In this issue, Martuzzi makes a plea for the use of both caution and common sense and highlights the changing definitions of the precautionary principle.3

Wiener4 defines three basic interpretations of the precautionary principle:

1. uncertainty does not justify inaction;

2. uncertain risk justifies action;

3. shifting the burden of proof.

The UK Interdepartmental Liaison Group on Risk Assessment (ILGRA) addresses the first by defining the purpose of the precautionary principle as creation of an impetus to take decisions, notwithstanding scientific uncertainty about the nature …

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  • Competing interests: None declared.

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