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Food safety agencies pivotal role in risk perception

30-Mar-2004

Despite the development of a very important corpus of EU and national legislation to protect EU citizens against currently identified risks, several studies show that contradictory opinions about perceived risks remain important among national stakeholders groups, says EU Commissioner David Byrne.

Writing in the March issue of the Consumer Voice the commissioner for health and consumer protection communicates his belief that stakeholders - industry, politicians, consumer groups - must make progress in comprehending how the public perceives risk.

"If we fail to make progress, there is a 'very real danger that an 'anti-science' agenda may take root in European society," said Byrne.

 

Numerous surveys and debates across the EU bloc on genetically modified foodstuffs that have recorded a strong anti-GM feeling are arguably, in part, driven by a latent anti-science sentiment and suggest that Byrne could have his finger on the pulse.

 

If a kalaedescope of different risk perceptions do really exist in the mind of the public, the role of national food safety agencies to protect the consumer and assess or manage risk is evident.

 

The establishment of food safety agencies in many Member States in recent years has created a credible and visible independence of scientific advisors from government, said Byrne.

 

Speaking at a conference on risk perception in Brussels last December Miguel Arias Cañete, Spain's former minister of agriculture, believed that greater stakeholder involvement in risk analysis and the EU's new 'farm to fork' approach to food safety, should lead to calmer and more balanced public debate on risk.

 

Renate Künast, the German minister for Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture, sounded a note of caution. Only by pursuing a policy of openness and honesty, both about what they know and what they do not know, will governments and regulators be able to regain the trust of Europe's citizens.

 

We must not be deluded by the sometimes seductive, yet false, notion of a zero risk society, concluded Commissioner Byrne. Arias Cañete added: "In the developed world, the taking of risk is not only an intrinsic condition of life, it is also essential to economic and social development. The key is to know what level of risk we can accept."