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Risk assessment report aims to strengthen food system

By Rod Addy , 13-Dec-2012
Last updated on 13-Dec-2012 at 13:57 GMT

A risk assessment report delivered to the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) should enhance trust and the wider food system, according to the working group that put it together.

The FSA itself has welcomed the report, compiled by an international working group, which urges risk managers to apply the precautionary principle properly and calls for greater transparency and dialogue.

It also exhorts parties involved in risk assessment and management to take social and economic factors into account when making decisions.

The precautionary principle tends to make decision makers err on the side of caution, where they are taking action on food safety concerns and there is inconclusive scientific evidence.

Bans and restraints

The approach has been criticised because it leans towards implementing bans and restraints on technological development if there is a potential for negative impacts.

The working group stresses that measures based on the precautionary principle should in particular be subject to review in the light of new scientific data. They should also be capable of assigning responsibility for producing the scientific evidence necessary for a more comprehensive assessment, it states.

It claims international food safety agency heads should support the development of robust, evidence-based analysis of other risk assessment factors.

Trust and confidence

In addition, FSA chief scientist Andrew Wadge, who welcomed the report, said: “The report argues that where decision makers depart from the advice of risk assessors they need to explain their reasons rather than simply cite ‘scientific uncertainty’ or the 'precautionary principle'. This will help build trust and confidence in the regulation of food safety."

He prefaced this by saying: “This is a really valuable report that addresses a key issue about how decisions affecting the food we eat are made.”

The report calls for more clarity on the way local and international treaties and laws affect decisions and greater co-operation between international agency heads on developing an EU risk assessment framework.

National food agencies

Representatives from the national food agencies of Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK helped to compile the report.

The heads of food agencies have endorsed the report and agreed the recommendations at a meeting in Cyprus earlier this month.

The working group now aims to develop an action plan to implement the proposals.

  • In related news, UK FSA chief executive Jeff Rooker announced he would be stepping down from his post at the end of July 2013, at the conclusion of his four year contract.

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