[JURIST] A UN report released Thursday urges countries to develop a common understanding of the "precautionary principle," [ISIS backgrounder] a term freely used by nations that do not want to allow certain trade products to enter their borders on health or environmental grounds. The study, conducted by the UN University's Institute of Advanced Studies [official website], found that countries use the term as a justification for banning products due to fear of serious or irreversible harm even in instances when the suspected harm is not certain to occur. The UN report said such environmental or health-related bans could have a detrimental impact on transatlantic trade relations especially in cases when the principle is actually being used as a protectionist measure.
The precautionary principle has been applied to the European Union ban on genetically modified food and hormone-fed beef from the US and the US ban on unpasteurized cheeses from Europe. Earlier this year, the World Trade Organization (WTO) [official website] ruled that the EU and six member states violated trade regulations [JURIST report] by stopping the trade of biotech crops from the US, Canada and Argentina based on alleged safety concerns. The WTO has said an "absolute certainty" of safety issues must be present before trading bans can be implemented. Reuters has more.