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European briefing

A recent decision on the risk to humans of antibiotics in animal feed clarifies the law’s position on the precautionary principle. Paul Stanley reports

6 December 2002

We look to science to answer important practical questions: is British beef safe to eat? Are GM crops safe to grow? Is the MR vaccine harmful? We expect scientists to be able to answer such questions unequivocally. But often we are disappointed. The data is sparse; its interpretation is controversial. The scientists disagree, or agree that no clear answer is possible. From a purely scientific point of view this hardly matters: sooner or later the truth will emerge. But those who have to take practical decisions cannot wait. They must make practical judgments under conditions of uncertainty. However, the precise ambit and consequences of the precautionary principle were not clear until the court at first instance (CFI) in Case T-13/99, Pfizer (11 September 2002) clarified them. Facts The case concerned the addition of an antibiotic, virginiamycin, to animal feed, to act as a growth promoter. It had been used for many years. When the EC regime regulating such additi...

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