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Since being globalized by inclusion in the 1980’s and 1990’s through several U.N. declarations and treaties, the Precautionary Principle has become a flashpoint internationally among scholars working in the fields of risk, international environmental law, European Union law and even U.S. federal law. The controversy surrounding the Precautionary Principle apparently arose and persists because the Principle is undertheorized. We revisit three fundamental questions: what is the Precautionary Principle, where did it come from, and how should we use it. Because the Precautionary Principle is a legal tool that is used internationally to manage technology, a comprehensive discussion of it is organically international and interdisciplinary. We argue that the Precautionary Principle is an index of formative measures of risk and fear; that its origins should be investigated specifically in relation to the particular legal instrument in question; and that it should be utilized only as an indicator of public perception and not as a prescriptive risk management tool. Because the Precautionary Principle is currently utilized internationally as a prescriptive tool, our recommendation is both controversial and non-trivial.

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