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Precautionary Principle and Pack Llamas

The "precautionary principle" originated as a strategy to deal with possible risks where scientific understanding/study was not yet complete (i.e. nano technology and genetically modified foods.) However, the precautionary principle (precautionary approach) has also been used by policy makers to justify discretionary decisions in situations where there is a possibility of harm from making a certain decision when they deem there is inadequate scientific knowledge.

Why Should I Care?
The danger is that a precautionary (no risk) principle/approach fails to recognize there is no such thing as zero risk. For example, a scientific risk assessment recognizes the existence of "risk" and attempts to quantify it. The objective is to determine the likelihood of something happening and the consequences. Although science can provide a high level of confidence it can never provide absolute certainty. The precautionary principle places an impossible burden of proof on the user group upon which it is imposed.

A public agency can apply the precautionary argument to arbitrarily block any user group or any activity if there is even the slightest theoretical possibility of harm. Government agencies can then decide what is “safe” and what is “not safe enough” without any accountability as to whether their decisions actually reduce overall risk. “Precautionary” justifications are quick and easy. These justifications don’t require much (if any) research or even a fundamental understanding of the application of scientific principles. They are characteristic of scientific illiteracy. Scientifically Illiterate America (by the Hoover Institution, Stanford)

Precautionary Principle Applied to Pack Llamas
In the case of pack llamas, a zero risk policy or "precautionary approach" is not warranted or appropriate for several reasons. There is overwhelming scientific evidence to show llamas pose no more of a disease threat than horses which are the preferred pack stock by government agencies on our pubic lands. Furthermore zero risk/precautionary approach is not being applied equally to all user groups. In terms of disease risk, “the precautionary principle” is not an appropriate policy when it is selectively applied to a user group or activity without taking into consideration the same or similar risks presented by other uses (i.e. horses) and activities that are permitted without such restrictions.

I will conclude with this poignant quote from Dr. Gregg P. Adams (DVM, MS, PhD, Diplomate ACT) - Professor of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK -

"In any risk assessment, the objective is to determine the probability of an event happening and the consequences of such an event. There is no such thing as a zero risk policy, and a zero-risk policy is not a legitimate argument to "strongly support a precautionary approach," if for no other reason than this approach is not being applied to all equally.

If the BC Wildlife Branch does not prohibit horses, dogs and humans in the BC back country, the onus is on the Ministry to provide documentation for their decision to prohibit llamas. Perhaps they know something we don't. If so fine - let's see the evidence. if not, then the prohibition must be rescinded."

More reading:
Letter from Dr. LaRue Johnson  Professor emeritus at Colorado State University and recognized camelid expert for 30 years. Letter is in response to Canadian llama (camelid) ban based on precautionary principle.