Wingspread Conference on the
Last weekend (Januray 26, 1998) at an historic gathering at Wingspread,
of the Johnson Foundation, scientists, philosophers, lawyers and
activists, reached agreement on the necessity of the Precautionary
in public health and environmental decision-making. The key element of
principle is that it incites us to take anticipatory action in the
of scientific certainty.
At the conclusion of the three-day conference, the diverse group issued
statement calling for government, corporations, communities and
to implement the "precautionary principle" in making decisions.
The 32 conference participants included treaty negotiators, activists,
and scientists from the United States, Canada and Europe. The
was called to define and discuss implementing the precautionary
which has been used as the basis for a growing number of international
The idea of precaution underpins some U.S. policy, such as the
for environmental impact statements before major projects are launched
federal funds. But most existing laws and regulations focus on cleaning
and controlling damage rather than preventing it. The group concluded
these policies do not sufficiently protect people and the natural
Participants noted that current policies such as risk assessment and
analysis give the benefit of the doubt to new products and
which may later prove harmful. And when damage occurs, victims and
advocates have the difficult task of proving that a product or activity
responsible. The precautionary principle shifts the burden of proof,
that those responsible for an activity must vouch for its harmlessness
be held responsible if damage occurs. The issues of scientific
economics, environmental and public health protection which are
in the principle make this extremely complex. We invite your thought
conversation on these topics.
The Wingspread Consensus Statement on the
The release and use of toxic substances, the exploitation of resources,
physical alterations of the environment have had substantial unintended
affecting human health and the environment. Some of these concerns are
rates of learning deficiencies, asthma, cancer, birth defects and
extinctions; along with global climate change, stratospheric ozone
and worldwide contamination with toxic substances and nuclear
We believe existing environmental regulations and other decisions,
those based on risk assessment, have failed to protect adequately human
and the environment - the larger system of which humans are but a part.
We believe there is compelling evidence that damage to humans and the
environment is of such magnitude and seriousness that new principles
conducting human activities are necessary.
While we realize that human activities may involve hazards, people must
more carefully than has been the case in recent history. Corporations,
entities, organizations, communities, scientists and other individuals
adopt a precautionary approach to all human endeavors.
Therefore, it is necessary to implement the Precautionary Principle:
an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment,
measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships
not fully established scientifically.
In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public,
bear the burden of proof.
The process of applying the Precautionary Principle must be open,
and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must
involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no
The Wingspread Conference on the Precautionary Principle was convened
the Science and Environmental Health Network, an organization that
science with the public interest, and by the Johnson Foundation, the W.
Jones Foundation, the C.S. Fund and the Lowell Center for Sustainable
at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.
Dr. Nicholas Ashford M.I.T.
Katherine Barrett Univ. of British Columbia
Anita Bernstein Chicago-Kent College of Law
Dr. Robert Costanza Univ. of Maryland
Pat Costner Greenpeace
Dr. Carl Cranor Univ. of California, Riverside
Dr. Peter deFur Virginia Commonwealth Univ.
Gordon Durnil Attorney
Dr. Kenneth Geiser Toxics Use Reduction Inst., Univ. of Mass.,
Dr. Andrew Jordan Centre for Social and Economic Research on the
Environment, Univ. Of East Anglia
Andrew King United Steelworkers of America, Canadian Office
Dr. Frederick Kirschenmann Farmer
Stephen Lester Center for Health, Environment and Justice
Sue Maret Union Inst.
Dr. Michael M'Gonigle Univ. of Victoria, British Columbia
Dr. Peter Montague Environmental Research Foundation
Dr. John Peterson Myers W. Alton Jones Foundation
Dr. Mary O'Brien Environmental Consultant
Dr. David Ozonoff Boston Univ.
Carolyn Raffensperger Science and Environmental Health Network
Dr. Philip Regal Univ. of Minnesota
Hon. Pamela Resor Massachusetts House of Representatives
Florence Robinson Louisiana Environmental Network
Dr. Ted Schettler Physicians for Social Responsibility
Ted Smith Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition
Dr. Klaus-Richard Sperling Alfred-Wegener- Institut, Hamburg
Dr. Sandra Steingraber Author
Diane Takvorian Environmental Health Coalition
Joel Tickner Univ. of Mass., Lowell
Dr. Konrad von Moltke Dartmouth College
Dr. Bo Wahlstrom KEMI (National Chemical Inspectorate), Sweden
Jackie Warledo Indigenous Environmental Network