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The Politics of Precaution

The Politics of Precaution: Regulating Health, Safety, and Environmental Risks in Europe and the United States

David Vogel
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The Politics of Precaution
    Book Description:

    The Politics of Precautionexamines the politics of consumer and environmental risk regulation in the United States and Europe over the last five decades, explaining why America and Europe have often regulated a wide range of similar risks differently. It finds that between 1960 and 1990, American health, safety, and environmental regulations were more stringent, risk averse, comprehensive, and innovative than those adopted in Europe. But since around 1990, the book shows, global regulatory leadership has shifted to Europe. What explains this striking reversal?

    David Vogel takes an in-depth, comparative look at European and American policies toward a range of consumer and environmental risks, including vehicle air pollution, ozone depletion, climate change, beef and milk hormones, genetically modified agriculture, antibiotics in animal feed, pesticides, cosmetic safety, and hazardous substances in electronic products. He traces how concerns over such risks--and pressure on political leaders to do something about them--have risen among the European public but declined among Americans. Vogel explores how policymakers in Europe have grown supportive of more stringent regulations while those in the United States have become sharply polarized along partisan lines. And as European policymakers have grown more willing to regulate risks on precautionary grounds, increasingly skeptical American policymakers have called for higher levels of scientific certainty before imposing additional regulatory controls on business.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4256-8
    Subjects: Political Science, History, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. CHAPTER ONE The Transatlantic Shift in Regulatory Stringency
    (pp. 1-21)

    In 1962, the united states¹ enacted regulations for the approval of drugs that were more stringent than those of Great Britain and Germany.

    In 1969, the United States banned the artificial sweetener cyclamate, which remains permitted in each member state of the European Union.²

    In 1975, catalytic converters were required for all new cars sold in the United States; they were required for all new cars sold in the EU beginning in 1992.

    In 1979, the plant-growth regulator Alar was banned in the United States; all but one European country as well as the EU permits its use.

    In 1985,...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Explaining Regulatory Policy Divergence
    (pp. 22-42)

    The extent to which transatlantic regulatory policy divergence has increased during the last two decades presents a puzzle. When compared to the rest of the world, Europe and the United States have much in common. The United States and the fifteen member states of the EU (as of 2003) are affluent democracies with sophisticated public bureaucracies, substantial scientific capacities, and strong civic cultures. Their regulatory officials have access to much of the same scientific expertise and there is extensive communication among policy makers, scientists, business managers, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), and citizens. Thanks to the spread of global media, many Americans...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Food Safety and Agriculture
    (pp. 43-102)

    Many food safety regulations adopted in the United States between 1960 and 1990, most notably for suspected carcinogens in the food supply, were more risk-averse than those adopted in individual European countries, as well as by the EU. But more recently, the European Union has approved several regulations for food safety and agricultural production that are more stringent than those of the United States. These include: beef hormones—banned in the EU in 1985, but still permitted in the United States; the milk hormone BST—approved for use in the United States in 1993, but permanently banned in Europe in...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Air Pollution
    (pp. 103-152)

    This chapter compares the policies in the United States and Europe to several health and environmental risks associated with air pollution—one of the most critical dimensions of environmental regulation. It specifically describes and explains each of their policy decisions toward the health and environmental risks of mobile (vehicular) source pollutants, ozone-depleting chemicals, and global climate change.

    Beginning in the 1970s, the United States moved earlier and adopted more stringent controls on automotive emissions than did any European country or the European Union. During the 1970s and 1980s, the United States was the first country to identify the risks of...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Chemicals and Hazardous Substances
    (pp. 153-188)

    This chapter compares European and American regulations for the health, safety, and environmental risks of chemicals and hazardous substances.

    The 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) significantly strengthened American chemical regulations and contributed to the 1979 decision of the European Union to both harmonize and strengthen its chemical regulations, though they remained weaker than those of the United States. While there has been no major statutory change in American chemical regulation since then, in 2006 the EU approved REACH—the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals, which made European chemical regulations significantly more stringent and comprehensive than those of...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Consumer Safety
    (pp. 189-218)

    This chapter compares European and American regulatory policies toward several additional non-food-related health and safety product risks, namely those posed by pharmaceuticals, and chemicals in children’s toys and cosmetics. In contrast to many of the other policy areas examined in this book, two of the three cases examined in this chapter show that European and American risk regulations have converged, though the dynamics through which this occurred differed substantially.

    Pharmaceutical regulation constitutes the most important exception to the broader pattern of increased transatlantic regulatory policy divergence. What makes this area of regulatory policy distinctive is that its political salience—or...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Public Risk Perceptions and the Preferences of Policy Makers
    (pp. 219-251)

    This chapter and the following one further develop my explanatory framework for the discontinuity in health, safety, and environmental risk regulations that took place on both sides of the Atlantic after around 1990. This chapter focuses on changes in public opinion, specifically the public’s risk perceptions, and the preferences of influential policy makers. Both separately and by their interaction with one another, they have had a critical impact on shaping the divergence in transatlantic regulatory stringency.

    During the second half of the 1980s, the extent and intensity of public concerns about a wide range of health, safety, and environmental risks...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT The Law and Politics of Risk Assessment
    (pp. 252-278)

    This chapter further describes and explains the trend away from regulatory stringency in the United States and toward it in the European Union. It begins by documenting the precautionary basis of many of the risk regulations adopted by the United States, primarily before 1990, providing further evidence that there is nothing distinctively “European” about a precautionary approach to risk regulation.¹ It then turns to the increasingly important role of regulatory impact analyses in the United States, which include both scientific risk assessments and cost-benefit analyses. These policy tools have contributed to reducing the number of highly stringent risk regulations adopted...

  12. CHAPTER NINE Broader Implications
    (pp. 279-294)

    This chapter explores some of the broader implications of this study, specifically its contributions to our understanding of the dynamics of policy convergence and divergence, the relationship between political institutions and policy styles, and the public perception of risks. I conclude by suggesting the implications of my explanatory framework for the future of consumer and environmental risk regulation in both the United States and the European Union.

    The extensive literature on policy convergence addresses two issues: the extent of policy convergence and direction of policy convergence. Several studies have identified a number of mechanisms that promote policy convergence.¹ First, countries...

  13. Index
    (pp. 295-317)