Monday, May 7, 2012

David Vogel's "The Politics of Precaution"

David Vogel is a professor in the Haas School of Business and the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. His books on business-government-society relations include The Market for Virtue: The Potential and Limits of Corporate Society Responsibility and Trading Up: Consumer and Environmental Regulation in a Global Economy.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Politics of Precaution: Regulating Health, Safety and Environmental Risks in Europe and the United States, and reported the following:
Page 99 describes the politics surrounding the passage of the Food Quality Protection Act of 1966. This is one of the few pieces of regulatory legislation passed by Congress since the early 1990s and represents a modest exception to the broader claim of my book, namely that since the early 1990s, the number of new health, safety and environmental laws approved by the federal government has markedly declined.

The central finding of my book is that the last two decades have witnessed a notable shift in the relative stringency of consumer and environmental standards in Europe and the United States. Chapter 3, which includes page 99, illustrates this shift with respect to food safety regulation. Between 1960 and 1990, many American food safety standards were more stringent than those adopted in Europe. But more recently, the European Union has banned beef and milk hormones as well as antibiotics in animal feed – all of which are permitted in the US. Genetically modified agricultural products are widely used in the US, while their introduction has been heavily restricted in Europe.

The next three chapters of the book further document these policy shifts by comparing changes in the relative stringency of European and American regulations for air pollution, chemicals and hazardous materials, and cosmetic safety.

In the (more interesting) earlier and later chapters of the book, I develop an explanation for these important transatlantic shifts in regulatory stringency. I argue that they are due to three inter-related factors: transatlantic differences in public demands and pressures for more risk averse regulations, transatlantic differences in the preferences of policymakers, and changes in the legal and administrative criteria for assessing and managing risks. As the title of book suggests, I highlight the importance of the EU’s embrace of the precautionary principle, which has led European policymakers to become more risk averse than their counterparts in the United States.
Learn more about The Politics of Precaution at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue