Minister: precautionary principle has 'got out of hand'

UK minister for the environment Michael Meacher today conceded that, in responding to the foot-and-mouth outbreak, 'the precautionary principle perhaps got out of hand because we did not understand all of the issues'.

Michael Meacher, UK minister for the environment, today conceded that, in responding to the foot-and-mouth outbreak, ‘the precautionary principle perhaps got out of hand because we did not understand all of the issues’.

Speaking at a London conference on sustainable development, Meacher was asked whether, with the countryside closed down and the UK perceived as a sick country, it was possible that applying the precautionary principle had led to an overreaction.

In reply, the minister insisted that such a virulent disease as foot-and-mouth demanded a ‘proportionate response’. But he admitted that the government also now recognised that ‘people are increasingly reacting where there is no risk’. Meacher announced that a Downing Street meeting was planned for tomorrow (16 March 2001) to discuss the resulting problems, such as the threat to the tourism industry. He concluded by conceding that the precautionary principle had ‘perhaps got out hand’. 

Out of hand? Some of us might think that closing down the country and turning an animal disease into a crisis, in circumstances where you admit you ‘did not understand all the issues’, is actually a perfect example of the precautionary principle in action.

The conference was held at the Royal Overseas League, and was also attended by Jonathan Porritt, head of the government’s Sustainable Development Commission, and Margot Wallstorm, European commissioner for the environment.

Read on:

Things fall apart, by Mick Hume

European commissioner for research Philippe Busquin on the precautionary principle, at ePolitix

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