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Abstract Two ideas precede the modern Precautionary Principle. First, that prevention is better than cure, exemplified by an aphorism in an early 13th century book of Jewish aphorisms, the Sefer Hasidim : “Who is a skilled physician? He who can prevent sickness.” Secondly, Thomas Sydenham’s 17th century assertion that in healthcare it is important above all not to do harm, “primum est ut non nocere.” These two ideas come together in the Vorsorgeprinzip, which was incorporated into German legislation for maintaining clean air in the 1960s and 1970s, and first appeared in English-language documents in 1982, which referred to taking a precautionary approach or precautionary measures, or more formally as the Precautionary Principle. The principle features in international documents such as the Rio Declaration and in many pieces of EU legislation relating to topics as diverse as genetically modified organisms, food safety, the safety of toys, and invasion of alien species of animals, plants, fungi, or microorganisms.

Original publication




Journal article





Publication Date



n3059 - n3059