H ere it is 2013 and the U.S. still refuses, with a few exceptions, to adopt the precautionary principle, a key tool used to protect public health.

The essence of this principle is that the safety of a product must be proven before the product can be released on an unsuspecting public. The precautionary principle reflects the idea that “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.”

Applying this principle means people are protected from unnecessary risks, and the environment is protected from additional unnecessary contamination. If an unsafe product were let loose on the public, given the complexity of our modern life, it would be very difficult to demonstrate later that this product was harmful.

Without definitive proof of the causality of harm, the product is allowed to remain on the market, causing even more damage.

Clearly this difficulty demonstrating causality works:

1. To increase the profits of the corporation that released the harmful product;

2. Against the public interest.

One would have hoped that the U.S. experience with snake oil salesmen during the 19th century would have caused us to demand protection. Nope. Even other examples of harmful products such as lead-based paints, asbestos, DDT, cigarettes and lead additives in gasoline — as well as disasters with oil tankers and deep-water drilling for oil — didn’t lead to the adoption of the precautionary principle.

Certainly the incredible damage to our financial situation caused by Wall Street with its triple-A rated fraudulent products finally caused the government to adopt the precautionary principle?

After all, Wall Street’s crime almost destroyed the world’s financial system. Nope. What will it take before this common-sense idea is used to stop extremely harmful products and procedures from being released on the public?

Clearly there are risks and benefits associated with most products. However the public is usually only told about the short-term benefits. Once a dangerous product is released on the public, the damages it does alone may be irreversible.

Let’s apply this approach to the controversy over fracking. Has the current manner of fracking been proven to be safe enough by experts with no vested interests or connections to the oil and gas industry?

If not, following the precautionary principle, we should stop its use until it’s proven to be safe.

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