Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 489–508 | Cite as

Risk, Uncertainty and Precaution in Science: The Threshold of the Toxicological Concern Approach in Food Toxicology

  • Karim BschirEmail author
Original Paper


Environmental risk assessment is often affected by severe uncertainty. The frequently invoked precautionary principle helps to guide risk assessment and decision-making in the face of scientific uncertainty. In many contexts, however, uncertainties play a role not only in the application of scientific models but also in their development. Building on recent literature in the philosophy of science, this paper argues that precaution should be exercised at the stage when tools for risk assessment are developed as well as when they are used to inform decision-making. The relevance and consequences of this claim are discussed in the context of the threshold of the toxicological concern approach in food toxicology. I conclude that the approach does not meet the standards of an epistemic version of the precautionary principle.


Uncertainty Threshold of toxicological concern Environmental decision-making Precautionary principle Tuxedo Fallacy 



I would like to thank the Food Packaging Forum in Zurich, Switzerland for giving me the opportunity to present an earlier version of this article at a TTC workshop in 2013. I would also like to thank the participants of the workshop for a lively and inspiring discussion. Large parts of this article were composed during a Visiting Fellowship at the Center for Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh in 2014. I would like to thank everybody at the Center, and in particular the director John Norton, for having created a truly inspiring and supportive work environment. My fellow Fellows Joshua Alexander, Bill Bechtel, Ingo Brigandt, Sara Green, Nicholas Jones, Raphael Scholl and Maria Serban all contributed in their own ways to a truly special intellectual experience. Four anonymous reviewers provided highly useful comments. The financial support of Society in Science—the Branco Weiss Fellowship is kindly acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Humanities, Social and Political SciencesSwiss Federal Institute of TechnologyZurichSwitzerland

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