CPSIA and the “precautionary principle”


If CPSIA is premised on anything, it’s the idea that before makers of goods place items on the market, they should have to shoulder the burden of proving that they’re safe, even if it seems very, very unlikely on the face of it (as with books, cotton bibs, ballpoint pens, etc.) that they’re doing any significant harm. Is this perhaps an early application of the much-debated “precautionary principle“, which proposes that gaps in scientific knowledge be resolved against those who want to introduce anything new or potentially dangerous? Deputy Headmistress wonders. She also links to Rick Woldenberg who continues his revisionist looks at the Great Toy Scare of 2006-7, noting that in one much-publicized recall of 436,000 toys by Mattel, the trigger for the recall was that “TWO CANS OF PAINT slipped through its safety systems, and were spread ratably over 436,000 units. Hmmm – how dangerous do you think one Sarge car would be with 1/218,000th of a can of paint on it? This event was one of the sparks that triggered the mania leading to the CPSIA – the same mania that now sweeps up libraries.”

Brian Micklethwait, a while back, had a further relevant thought about whether the Precautionary Principle has itself been proven safe.

More: An interesting contribution from Dan Marshall at Change.org.

Public domain graphic: Grandma’s Graphics, Ruth Mary Hallock.


  • The precautionary principle is a way to keep the mass of people huddling in their caves, while the priests and shamans argue about the dangers lurking outside. Of course, the people must support the priests in the highest manner possible, because it is they who have to come up with all of the scary stories that they use to frighten the people.

    It is a strategy being used to great effect to try to control us. And we accept it, because it is done “for the children and the most vulnerable”, who, in the end, include everyone.

  • The precautionary principle requires you to prove something is safe, i.e. does no harm. You can’t prove a negative. This so called principle requires the imp0ssible.

  • Here is a recall of children’s shoes due to lead levels in the soles. It seems to me that if a child is eating the soles of her shoes, there is something seriously wrong with the child, not with the shoes.

  • Samizdata links to the IEM March 2005 article that states “This precautionary principle has become a central demand of radical environmental groups since the Rio Summit in 1992.”

  • http://www.sehn.org/precaution.html

    Absolutely frightening stuff. If Waxman believes this stuff he will NEVER budge on CPSIA. Look for this paper, Wolves and Precaution: The Precautionary Principle and Children’s Environmental Health

    The argument runs, if you don’t ban lead, etc. the children all end up in jail.