The Importance of Science-Based Decisions in relation to the use of crop protection products
CropLife Latin America's perspective on the disadvantages of the Precautionary Principle as opposed to Risk Assessment. While the Precautionary Principle promotes decisions based exclusively on the danger of an activity or a technology, Risk Assessment promotes decisions based on scientific analysis, opens the possibility of managing risk and facilitates the entry of new technologies.
Crop protection products are indispensable tools for the farmer, without which agricultural sustainability and food security would be put at risk. CropLife Latin America1 member companies develop the best technologies according to the state of science. These companies continually review their technologies in the region and, as scientific knowledge on existing and alternative technologies advances, they develop new products in line with their commitment to agricultural innovation focused on health and sustainable production.
From this perspective, regulations that are based on rigorous scientific knowledge are advocated; knowledge that is independently validated and widely supported by the majority consensus of scientists around the world. It is this kind of knowledge that constitutes the basis for decision-making derived from scientific risk assessment: the greater the risk, the greater the mitigation requirements of it and the greater the regulatory scrutiny.
Risk assessment summarizes the state of science so that society realizes the benefits of an agriculture that helps countries to have food security and strengthen their economic development.
Contrary to this view, is positioned the precautionary principle which implores that when the risks associated with a specific activity are to some extent indeterminate or not fully understood, the worst possible scenario should be assumed and such activity avoided. On the basis of identifying danger, this is the fear of danger, the precautionary principle is based on ignoring that people are capable of managing the risk associated with a hazard and making their own decisions regarding the latter. The implications and scope of this kind of reasoning are important. For example, medicines could not be used to treat diseases, as they all have some level of toxicity and side effects. Another example would be not taking advantage of plants since they produce a large amount of natural chemical substances that fulfill various metabolic and physiological functions, all with various levels of toxicity and most only partially scientifically characterized. From the perspective of the precautionary principle, we could not take advantage of plants to produce food, medicines or materials, such as textiles, construction elements, biofuels, or any other human use of plants and their byproducts.
The precautionary principle has been introduced in various instruments of international organizations and treaties2. In Latin America, radical anti-innovation organizations and individuals continually make political lobbying and media campaigns of misinformation and fear to manipulate the public in favor of the precautionary principle, which inhibits innovation or development of new technologies. Of course, it is much easier to defend the premise of "it is better to be safe than sorry" in matters related to health or the environment. It is politically much more difficult to explain and convince the public and certain decision makers that there are no activities in the world whose absolute risk is zero.
When the precautionary principle is established as the basis for regulatory decisions and public policies, it forces the authorities to make decisions based on the inherent danger of any activity or technology, ranging from restrictions to prohibitions. In other words, it empowers authorities to make decisions based on ideology and not science, effectively limiting the freedom of people to assess the risk of activities and to decide on how to manage risk.
The crop protection industry represented by CropLife Latin America promotes science-based decision making. With full transparency, we support regulatory and legislative authorities, as well as the general public, to increase their understanding and capacities for this type of discussions and analyses that lead countries to advance on the path of innovation, competitiveness and sustainability of their nations.
We recommend to all people, institutions and authorities in Latin America, to trust that the continuously increasing3 state of science and scientific knowledge are the only basis on which rational decisions can be made that allow us to improve the conditions of health, environment and sustainable development in society.
You might be interested: Pesticide Risk Management and Mitigation Course
2 The Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact. https://www.unglobalcompact.org/what-is-gc/mission/principles
3 The NRC Risk Assessment Paradigm. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Consulted in April 2020. https://www.epa.gov/fera/nrc-risk-assessment-paradigm