Most regulatory systems—including that of the United States — utilize a precautionary approach to regulation. And, while most people would agree that precaution is a good idea, two key questions arise: Is the precautionary approach working? Can overzealous precaution actually halt innovation?
Several speakers zeroing in on the Precautionary Principle at the National Institute for Animal Agriculture’s 2014 Annual Conference, “The Precautionary Principle: How Animal Agriculture will Thrive,” in Omaha, Neb., April 1-2, unanimously agreed that an overabundance of precaution can impede innovation and stifle progress. Another speaker stressed to the 225-plus conference attendees that sustainability—and not the Precautionary Principle—should drive decisions.
NIAA’s Opening General Session speaker Mark Walton, PhD, Chief Marketing Officer for Recombinetics said the Precautionary Principle, which is based on a “better to be safe than sorry” approach to regulation, is not a “bad idea.” But, when the Precautionary Principle becomes twisted and diverts progress due to prejudices, he contends that it is not accomplishing what it was designed to do.
Walton identified several challenges associated with policy being set when the Precautionary Principle is taken to the extreme. Among the challenges he shared are “who gets to decide what risks warrant not moving a product forward” and why do fear-instilled, perceived risks voiced by activist groups take precedence over fact-based evidence such as research and science findings. Adding to the concern is that “there is no single, generally agreed-to definition of the Precautionary Principle.”
While NIAA’s Closing General Session speakers Ron Stotish, PhD, president and chief executive officer of AquaBounty Technologies, and Dave Edwards, PhD, director of Animal Biotechnology, agree that the Precautionary Principle applied to the extreme can halt progress, Edwards didn’t leave those in animal agriculture off the hook. He stressed that it is animal agriculture’s job to be open and transparent, communicate with consumers and convince others than the technology used is safe.
Everything is changing in today’s world and the rate of change is close to unbelievable, Marty Matlock, PhD, executive director for the Office of Sustainability and a professor of biological and agricultural engineering at the University of Arkansas, told conference attendees.