The Precautionary Principle is the idea that a preventative action should be taken when faced with unknown consequences until the product can be proven as safe. The most recent environmental guidelines following the precautionary principle have four main components which include:
- Taking preventive action in the face of uncertainty
- Shifting the burden of proof to the proponents of an activity
- Exploring a wide range of alternatives to possibly harmful actions
- Increasing public participation in decision making (a)
Normally, governments and companies do not take the precautionary principle unless the product is considered to potentially harm the general public. This is because if this approval process were needed with everything, products would forever be undergoing research. Only when products contain certain materials do they have to undergo excess precaution. Oftentimes this precaution is meant to protect the consumer from harmful products that may cause sickness, pain or death.
European nations consider the precautionary principle with decisions far more than the U.S. European nations have banned far more substances within cosmetics than the U.S. The EU has effectively banned over 1,300 chemicals while the U.S. has only banned 11 (b). This is likely because of lobbying forces by corporate America but that is just an assumption.
In fact cannabis (both hemp and marijuana) is one of the only materials on which the U.S. has consistently taken the precautionary principle. The U.S. has researched cannabis heavily since the early 1930s, but yet, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency still claims to not have enough research on the subject to prove that it is safe (and we’re talking about INDUSTRIAL HEMP here too- a nonpsychoactive health food, a building application, and a textile).
Meanwhile, a drug like OxyContin was approved by the FDA in 1995. OxyContin is a oxycodone controlled-release pill thats active drug is derived from opioids, a drug that has been known to be highly addictive since the early 1900s. However, when the FDA approved OxyContin they “believed the controlled-release formulation of OxyContin would result in less abuse potential, since the drug would be absorbed slowly and there would not be an immediate ‘rush’ or high that would promote abuse (c).” Instead of taking a precautionary approach to the drug, the FDA approved it “bas[ing] its judgment on the prior marketing history of a similar product, MS Contin (c).” MS Contin was a controlled-release formulation of morphine that the FDA approved in 1987 that did not show significant reports of abuse and misuse.
In the FDA’s defense they did warn the public that crushing the pills and snorting them or using them intravenously would cause addictive behavior. They were right in that regard, but they were wrong to approve OxyContin without taking the precautionary approach and properly assessing the drug. Ten to fifteen years later, America is facing one of the largest drug addiction epidemics in decades, all because the precautionary principle was not taken.
Meanwhile, industrial hemp is still seen as more dangerous than OxyContin… because we must take precaution on a naturally derived plant that we can use for paper, textiles, cosmetics and health foods.
This is a tough solution because U.S. government would need to change their approach to precaution and stop using its citizens as test subjects. Individually, just be careful. Become familiar with labels and the content of food, cosmetics and drugs. Look to European and Canadian guidelines for what they recognize as safe and compare them to U.S. products. If it is an approved product in Europe or Canada it has likely undergone more rigorous testing than the U.S.
How Can Hemp Help?
Hemp is a natural material, so under normal conditions, it is safer and cleaner than the synthetic alternative.
Verified Life Cycle, Inc is also working to ensure that the U.S. industrial hemp supply chain is built in the most sustainable manner possible.
(a) Kriebel, D., Thickner, J., Epstein, P., et. al. The precautionary principle in environmental science. Environmental Health Perspective. 2001. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1240435/
(b) Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. International Laws. 2016. http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/regulations/international-laws/
(c) U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Timeline of Selected FDA Activities and Significant Events Addressing Opioid Misuse and Abuse. 23 Aug 2016. http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/InformationbyDrugClass/ucm338566.htm