RECIPES: REconciling sCience, Innovation and Precaution through the Engagement of Stakeholders

By Dr. Kristel de Smedt


The development of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), nanotechnology and neonicotinoid insecticides presents opportunities for humans and the environment, but it can also carry risks to human, animal or plant health.

Decisions on their promotion or regulation are often to be taken in situations of uncertainty or lack of knowledge about these risks. But how do we take sound decisions in situations of scientific uncertainty? How do we decide on new or emerging technologies?

In such situations, the precautionary principle guides decision-makers faced with risks, scientific uncertainty and public concerns. As a general principle of EU law, it allows decision-makers to act despite scientific uncertainty.

In recent years, the principle has been criticised for hindering technologic innovation. Therefore, some stakeholders have developed an ‘innovation principle’, stressing the importance of taking into account also potential impacts on innovation.

Under the Horizon 2020’s subprogramme ‘Science with and for Society’ (SWAFS), the European Commission launched a call to take stock of the precautionary principle in R&I and to reconnect science with society.

The RECIPES project (REconciling sCience, Innovation and Precaution through the Engagement of Stakeholders) of the Consortium led by Maastricht University takes up this challenge and aims to develop new tools and guidelines to ensure the precautionary principle is applied while still encouraging innovation.

In order to fully grasp the complexity, controversies and sensitivities around the EU-Treaty-based precautionary principle in relation to the emerging “innovation principle” (the notion “innovation principle” has recently been included for the first time in an EU legal text; see the European Parliament legislative resolution of 17 April 2019 on the proposal for a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council on establishing the specific programme implementing Horizon Europe – the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation), RECIPES will first look at how the precautionary principle has been implemented since 2000 to examine its policy impacts. Furthermore, eight case studies will help to understand and explain the potential differences in the application of the principle in the different cases. These case studies will examine the role of the precautionary principle and the balance between precaution and innovation in recent and relevant cases such as glyphosate and neo-nicotinoids but also of artificial intelligence (or robots, as a previous blog already mentioned). Finally, the project will produce different scenarios for the future application of the precautionary principle in the development of law and governance relating to new and emerging technologies. The ultimate objective of the project is to develop, in a co-creation approach with the various stakeholders, new tools and guidelines to help policy makers and other stakeholders to assess risks and uncertainty and to apply the precautionary principle taking into account innovation.

The project is pioneering because of its ground-breaking and interdisciplinary endeavour involving the integration of social and legal disciplines and based on co-creation with policy-makers and other stakeholders.

The project will run for three years from January 2019-January 2022. Ellen Vos and Kristel De Smedt will lead the Consortium together with colleagues Michael Faure and Marjolein van Asselt, Christine Neuhold and Esther Versluis (CERiM). The consortium is composed of 11 partners, representing all geographical regions of Europe. The consortium brings together academic expertise from three leading academic groups in the field of the precautionary principle (from Maastricht University, University of Bergen, and Humboldt-University Berlin), three major European players in Technology Assessment (Rathenau Institute, the Danish Board of Technology and the Austrian Academy of Sciences) and five leading non-profit research institutes (Dialogik, Ecologic, IASS, ARC-FUND and K&I).

The project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 824665. More information can (soon) be found under: We hope to provide you with interesting new insights into the precautionary principle and the relationship between precaution, innovation and law-making in the next three years!