The precautionary principle is supposed to prevent environmental and health risks from arising in the first place. It encourages early and forward-looking action to minimise risks, for example in the use of nanotechnologies or pesticides. Critics of the precautionary principle argue, however, that it promotes excessive caution and hinders technological innovation. The project "REconciling sCience, Innovation and Precaution through the Engagement of Stakeholders" (RECIPES) aims to analyse how the precautionary principle is applied in the European Union and improve its future application with recourse to participatory methods. The precautionary principle has been recognised as a general principle in EU law and in various EU regulations and directives. It aims to supplement other management strategies for dealing with large-scale scientific uncertainty and lack of knowledge. As a UNESCO declaration on the precautionary principle states, "When human activities may lead to morally unacceptable harm that is scientifically plausible but uncertain, actions shall be taken to avoid or diminish that harm."
Precaution and innovation are not mutually exclusive alternatives
Various stakeholders have proposed an 'innovation principle' to complement the precautionary principle. The Council of the European Union supports this proposal and has called on member states and the European Commission to explore the possibilities of applying the innovation principle in decisions relating to research and innovation. Indeed, the Commission has concluded that far from being mutually exclusive concepts, precaution and innovation are in fact complementary. Already today, a cost-benefit analysis is conducted every single time the precautionary principle is invoked.
New approaches to product development
The RECIPES project is funded under the European Union's Horizon 2020 Programme for Research and Innovation. It investigates whether and how the precautionary and innovation principles can be reconciled with each other. In this context, it also examines how companies can make their product development process more flexible from the outset and be more responsive to outside input. The project aims to develop new empirically- and theoretically-grounded scenarios and tools for reconciling science, innovation and precaution. The integration of perspectives from the social and legal sciences makes it a groundbreaking endeavour. The team of researchers also cooperates with policymakers and other stakeholders from outside academia. The new approaches arising from this project will make it possible to take the specific features of each case into account and develop tailormade solutions for striking a balance between precaution and innovation.