Analysis of the case studies

To fully understand the complexities and the controversies around the application of the precautionary principle, the RECIPES project conducted nine case studies. The aim was to understand and explain the potential differences in the application depending on the topic and the context. A comparison across the different cases indicates that the application of the precautionary principle had positive effects on innovation and contributed to more responsible pathways.

Taking stock of the precautionary principle since 2000

The precautionary principle is supposed to enable decision-makers to adopt precautionary measures even if scientific uncertainties about environmental and health risks remain. However, opinions about the precautionary principle are divided. To some, it is unscientific and an obstacle to progress. To others, it is a necessary tool to protect human health and the environment.

Case Study 3: Endocrine Disruptors

About the case

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are at the centre stage of a scientific and regulatory controversy.  Chemicals shown to have endocrine disrupting effects have mostly been man-made. They were originally engineered so as to produce benefits most importantly – but not exclusively – for industry and agriculture, households and consumers, as well as for medical and personal health care.

Case Study 4: Neonicotinoid insecticides

About the case

In Europe, hundreds of different pesticides are allowed in farming to control fungi (fungicides), weeds (herbicides) and plague insects (insecticides) that may harm the crop. Among them are Neonicotinoid insecticides (in short: neonics) that, due to the risk they pose for the environment and pollinating insects in particular, are regulated through the precautionary principle.

Case Study 6: Glyphosate

About the case

Glyphosate is one of the world’s most widely used herbicides, used in European agriculture to control weeds in a wide range of crops. The substance’s license was recently renewed, causing outrage and controversy due to its assumed connection to carcinogenic effects on humans and animals. Studies have both proven and disproven these carcinogenic effects, calling into question whether the substance should be discontinued until full safety is established.

Case Study 9: Microplastics in Food and Cosmetic Products

About the case

Microplastics are small pieces of plastics, usually defined as smaller than 5 millimeters. They enter the environment via two routes. Primary microplastics are intentionally added to products, as is done in cosmetic products, to increase certain product characteristics. Secondary microplastics, which constitute the biggest part of the environmental pollution, are pieces of plastic that break down from larger plastics as used for example in packaging materials.