Food Safety in the New Era
Dr S P Mak, JP
Controller, Centre for Food Safety, Food and Environmental Hygiene Department,
The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
With the rising living standard, globalization of food trade, as well as advancement in food technology, there is increasing public expectation on safety of food. Ensuring food safety has become more and more challenging for most food authorities around the world. This is especially the case for Hong Kong as over 95% of food consumed in Hong Kong is imported.
To enhance the food safety control functions and to meet the growing public expectation for better food safety standards, the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) has been established under the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department. The CFS aims to protect the health of people in Hong Kong through the development and implementation of effective food safety control measures. With its multi-disciplinary team, including public health physicians and nurses, veterinarians, health inspectors, food chemists, nutritionist, food biotechnologists, food toxicologists and other food scientists, the CFS is dedicated to work closely with the trade, consumers and authorities of countries and regions exporting food to Hong Kong to ensure that food available for sale in Hong Kong is safe, wholesome and fit for human consumption.
The CFS adopts a risk analysis framework encompassing risk assessment, risk management and risk communication in ensuring food safety.
On risk management, the CFS imposes import control on specific products, conducts food surveillance, enforces local food legislation and investigates and manages food incidents. To enhance control at source, the CFS frequently meets with relevant food safety authorities and conducts audit inspection of farms and processing plants overseas and in the Mainland.
Risk assessment forms the scientific basis of risk management and communication. For better protection of public health, the CFS adopts up-to-date risk assessment methodologies. A population based food consumption survey is underway to strengthen the risk assessment capability of the CFS. The CFS also maintains close liaison with international food safety organisations, including the World Health Organization and the Codex Alimentarius Commission to keep abreast of the latest development in international food standards and regulations.
On risk communication, the CFS utilizes various channels including the website, Announcements of Public Interest on television and radio, pamphlets, seminars, workshops, media briefings, etc to disseminate information on food safety to the public and the trade on a timely and frequent manner.
To strengthen the consultative framework, the CFS has established an Expert Committee on Food Safety, comprising experts from overseas food authorities, local academics, food experts, members of the food trade and consumer group to provide balanced and constructive views on food safety strategies, as well as advice on food standards in light of international developments.
Ensuring food safety requires tripartite collaboration – the government, the trade and consumers. To enhance communication with the stakeholders, the CFS has established a Trade Consultation Forum and Consumer Liaison Group to provide a regular platform for exchange of views on issues related to food safety.
The Role of Codex Alimentarius Commission in Enhancing Food Safety
Dr Claude J S Mosha
Chairperson, Codex Alimentarius Commission
Availability of safe food that will not endanger health through chemical, biological or other forms of contamination is a basic human right. Consumer protection and prevention of foodborne disease are the two essential elements of a food safety programme, and are the shared responsibility of governments, the food industry and consumers.
Consumers and governments have always become aware of food safety and quality issues and the need to be selective about the foods to eat. Consumers now demand protection for the whole food supply chain, from primary producer to end consumer. Governments have always been demanded by consumers to take legislative action to ensure that only safe food of acceptable quality is sold and that the risk of foodborne health hazards is minimized.
Evidence from earliest historical writings indicates that governing authorities were already concerned with codifying rules to protect consumers from dishonest practices in the sale of food. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire between 1897 and 1911, a collection of standards and product descriptions for a wide variety of foods was developed as the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus.
More food is increasingly moving across borders for a combination of food security, economic and technological reasons. The growth in world food trade advances in modern communication and increasing mobility of populations are all contributing to elevating the profile and significance of food safety and regulation. An effective food control system is critical in enabling all countries to ensure the safety of their foods entering international trade and to ensure that imported foods conform to national requirements.
The differing standards arising from independent development of food laws and standards by different countries already gave rise to trade barriers that were of increasing concern to food traders in the early twentieth century.
Efforts to harmonize food laws to promote trade were evident regionally in Latin America in 1949, in Europe 1954 to 1960 resulting in the formation by FAO and WHO of the Codex Alimentarius in 1960 and in 1961 the two bodies formed the Codex Alimentarius Commission.
The Codex Alimentarius, or the food code, has become the global reference point for consumers, food producers and processors, food control authorities and the international food trade. Its influence extends to every continent and its contribution to the protection of public health and fair practices in the food trade is immeasurable.
The Codex Alimentarius system presents a unique opportunity for all countries to work jointly in formulating and harmonizing food standards and ensuring their global implementation.
The WTO Agreements on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and Technical Barriers to Trade recognize Codex Alimentarius standards as the reference points for international food trade concerns.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission envisages a world afforded the highest attainable levels of consumer protection including food safety and quality by developing internationally agreed standards and related texts for use in domestic regulation and international trade in food that are based on scientific principles and fulfil the objectives of consumer health protection and fair practices in food trade.
Understanding Codex, by Codex Secretariat, Rome 2005
The Role of World Trade Organization in Food Trade Safety
Ms Gretchen Heimpel Stanton
Senior Counsellor, Agriculture and Commodities Division, World Trade Organization
When governments agreed to establish the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995, the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the "SPS Agreement"), came into effect. The SPS Agreement attempts to strike a balance between the right of governments to restrict trade when this is necessary to ensure food safety, plant or animal health protection, and the objective of ensuring that food safety and health protection measures are not used as unjustified barriers to international trade.
The underlying requirement of the SPS Agreement is that measures to ensure food safety and plant or animal health protection must be based on scientific evidence, and be the least restrictive of trade necessary to ensure health protection. To ensure that measures are based on scientific evidence, governments are strongly encouraged to base national requirements on internationally developed standards, guidelines and recommendations. The standards developed by the Joint FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission are identified as being the relevant international standards for food safety. Where international standards do not exist, or when a government decides not to use the international standard, the government is obliged to ensure that its measure is based on an appropriate risk assessment. Other provisions of the SPS Agreement permit governments to take emergency measures in cases where the scientific evidence is not sufficient to complete a risk assessment; address the recognition of equivalence of alternative ways of achieving the same level of health protection; and require adapting requirements to reflect the pest- or disease status of both the producing and the importing regions.
A very important requirement of the SPS Agreement is that governments be transparent about their food safety, plant and animal health requirements. Prior to adopting new legislation or requirements, governments must give advance notice, through the WTO, to their trading partners about the proposed new requirements. Comments from other countries must be considered before the requirements are finalized, and all requirements must be published. In addition, each WTO member government must establish an information centre or enquiry point responsible for answering questions and providing information to interested trading partners.
A specialized committee at the WTO oversees the implementation of the SPS Agreement and monitors the use of international standards. The committee normally meets three times each year and provides a forum for governments to identify specific trade problems resulting from food safety, plant or animal health requirements and to seek to resolve these problems. The WTO also has a formal, semi-judicial procedure for settling trade disputes between its member governments, which has been used to resolve a number of disputes relating to food safety, plant and animal health requirements in the past.
The Role of World Organisation for Animal Health in International Food Safety – Animal Production Food Safety from an OIE Perspective
Dr Sarah Kahn
Director, International Trade Department,
World Organisation for Animal Health
Zoonotic diseases can be transmitted to humans through food of animal origin. International standards for food safety are established by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, one of the three sanitary reference organisations under the WTO-SPS Agreement. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) is the relevant reference organisation for standards relating to animal health and zoonotic dieases. OIE International Standards apply to animals and animal products that could spread pathogens via international trade. Taking into consideration worldwide consumer demand for food safety, OIE is closely working with Codex and other relevant organizations to reduce food safety risks caused by hazards arising from animals.
The OIE has established a permanent Working Group on Animal Production Food Safety to coordinate its food safety related work. The Working Group has drawn up a detailed work programme for the development of standards on animal production food safety, covering issues pre-slaughter and prior to the first transformation of animal products. The OIE's primary focus is on measures applicable at the farm level.
The Working Group's contributions are addressed through the OIE's open and democratic process, i.e. the provision of recommendations of OIE Member Countries meeting as the International Committee at the annual General Session. These recommendations result in regular revision and updating of the international standards contained in the Animal Health Codes.
The Application of Risk Assessment in Food Safety Control in Mainland China
Professor Chen Junshi
Member, Chinese Academy of Engineering and
Research Professor, National Institute for Nutrition and Food Safety,
Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention,
The People's Republic of China
FAO/WHO encourages member countries to develop national food control measures based on risk assessment, in order to assure proper protection level to consumers and facilitate fair trade. This is particularly important for developing countries as WTO members, because it is clearly stated in the SPS Agreement that: SPS measures should be based on risk assessment techniques developed by relevant international organizations; and Codex standards which is based on risk assessment is regarded as the international norm in trade dispute settlement. When conducting risk assessment on food chemicals (including additives and contaminants) in developing countries, in most cases it is not necessary to conduct their own hazard characterization, because the ADIs or PTWIs of food chemicals developed by the international expert groups (e.g. JECFA, JMPR) are universally applicable and also developing countries do not have the resources to repeat those expensive toxicological studies. On the other hand, it is necessary to conduct exposure assessment by each individual country, because exposure to food chemicals varies from country to country. In addition to food standard development, risk assessment is also useful in setting up priorities in imported food inspection and evaluating the success of various food safety control measures. The outcomes of risk assessment are important sources for risk communication to media and general consumers.
In recent years, risk assessment of food chemicals has been applied in developing national food safety standards (e.g. heavy metals, pesticides residues, food additives etc.) and assessing emerging chemical hazards in food (e.g. chloropropanols, acrylamide, dioxins etc.) in Mainland China. The success of these risk assessments heavily depended on exposure assessment, which needs representative data on concentrations of specific chemicals in foods and the consumption of the food items containing the specific chemicals. Examples of risk assessment on food additives, acrylamide and dioxins based on Chinese data will be presented. The results showed that the intakes of major food additives (sweeteners, preservatives and colours) do not warrant concern, since the intakes of high consumers are well below the established ADIs. The assessment on acrylamide showed that the MOEs based on the Chinese intake data are far smaller than the MOEs based on the international intake data, and therefore, the health risk from acrylamide in the Chinese diet does not cause serious concern.
However, the application of risk assessment in food safety control in Mainland China has just started and much experience need to be learned from developed countries. In addition, provisions of risk assessment need to be included in the revised Food Hygiene Law of the PRC and independent expert risk assessment bodies need to be established to work closely with risk management agencies.
Global Environment Monitoring System/Food Databases and Total Diet Studies
Dr Gerald G Moy
Global Environment Monitoring System/Food Manager,
Department of Food Safety, Zoonoses and Foodborne Diseases,
World Health Organization
The GEMS/Food global databases are primarily intended to estimate human exposure to chemicals in the food supply. The databases consist of information on (a) individual measurements of chemical contaminants in food commodities, (b) aggregated data on chemical contaminants in food commodities, and (c) dietary intakes of contaminants, usually from total diet studies. The collection on aggregated data on chemical contaminants in food commodities are comprised of more than 77 000 records and dietary intakes of contaminants from total diet studies data collection contain more than 2500 records of measurements of contaminants on specific population sub-groups (cohorts). The trend of data submission to GEMS/Food is shown to be substantially increasing since the introduction of the electronic submission protocol and the OPAL software. Dissemination of the aggregated chemical concentration data and the total diet exposure data is enabled through the WHO SIGHT system, which has been enhanced to facilitate access and allow sorting of the result tables. The promotion of total diets by GEMS/Food will be discussed in the context of workshops and training courses, including those most recently held in Beijing in collaboration with the Institute of Nutrition and Food Safety of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Food Consumption Databases: Use in Supporting Food Regulation
Ms Janis Baines
Evaluation Coordinator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand
The development of food regulation in the form of food standards and/or codes of practice first requires a risk analysis to be undertaken of proposed regulatory options to assess their relative risk and benefits. An important part of the risk analysis process is a scientific risk assessment of the safety of a microbiological agent or food chemical, such as a food additive, heavy metal, pesticide residue or nutrient in the food supply for the population group of interest. The first two steps of risk assessment are hazard identification (adverse effects) and characterisation (dose response relationship), the output of which maybe a reference health standard, such as an acceptable daily intake for food additives or pesticide residue or upper level of intake for a nutrient.
Food consumption databases that describe the amount of foods and drinks consumed by a given population group, are a critical dataset for use in the third step of risk assessment, that of exposure assessment. In particular, these databases are used to predict potential exposure to food chemicals via the diet (food and water) by combining this information with information on the amount of the food chemical in each food type, enabling food habits of consumers to be taken into account in the risk assessment process. Dietary exposures are then compared to relevant reference health standards to assess the safety of each food. For microbiological hazards, information on the amount and type of foods eaten can be used in a quantitative model or semi-quantitative analysis to assess the risk to individuals in different scenarios from a foodborne illness.
Food consumption data can be collected in many different ways, from apparent food consumption data based on national food balance sheet data to the more accurate but more expensive and time consuming individual dietary surveys that record each person's food consumption by recall, diary or weighed food methodology over a 1-7 day period.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has developed a computer program for dietary exposure assessments that uses data on food consumption from our national nutrition surveys combined with nutritional and other chemical databases. The information obtained is used in several ways, including the consideration of proposals and applications to amend food chemical levels permitted for use, microbiological or labelling standards in our Food Standards Code, and to underpin the development of codes of practice guidelines or advisory statements.
Assessment of Microbiological Risks from Food
Professor Dean O Cliver
Food Safety Laboratory and World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for
Food Virology, University of California, Davis, USA
Hazards from food include microbial infections (viral, bacterial, parasitic) and intoxications (bacterial, fungal, algal), other intoxications, allergies, intolerances, and idiopathic illnesses. Risk assessment attempts to predict the probability and severity of foodborne illness (of microbiological cause, in the present instance), providing information needed for risk management and risk communication. It begins with defining the specific hazard (disease agent), one or more potential food vehicles, and the target "at-risk" population. Exposure assessment attempts to determine the frequency and levels of ingestion of the agent via food, and perhaps exposure by other routes. Knowledge of the sources of foodborne pathogens and how the agents may be controlled in foods are essential to good decision making. Foodborne pathogens may derive from humans (food handlers or the general population), animals, or the environment. Bacteria and fungi may multiply in foods, but viruses and parasites cannot. Hazard characterization considers how the dose of the agent influences the severity of the resulting illness. Risk characterization addresses the likelihood of occurrence and the severity of the adverse effect among the target population considered. Very young or old people, pregnant women, and people with immune impairments are considered especially vulnerable. Foodborne diseases that occur very rarely but are perceived as extremely severe (e.g. new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease) tend to evoke overly drastic countermeasures. A valid risk assessment is a basis for setting priorities in controlling hazards associated with food. It must be recognized that a zero-risk food supply is not possible, so risk assessment guides choices as to which hazards can be most effectively controlled with the resources available. In some cases, quite costly countermeasures may achieve only very limited further gains in safety. Good information for risk assessment may allow risk management via a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system, rather than relying on testing for food safety. Food safety is best achieved by preventing contamination; the second choice is processing the food to undo possible contamination; if all else fails, food is tested to see whether it is contaminated. Useful information for risk assessment may come from the world's scientific literature, but ideally should include specific epidemiological data regarding the incidence of the present foodborne illness in the population that is targeted for protection. Needed data derive from field investigations of outbreaks, including diagnostic sampling, interviews of patients and controls, and sampling and testing of suspect foods. Even an excellent risk assessment must be updated as new data become available. This iterative process provides the best available bases for risk management, risk communication, and setting of research priorities.
Council for Agricultural Science and Technology. 2006. Using risk analysis to inform microbial
food safety decisions. Issue paper 31. CAST, Ames , Iowa . pp. 20.
Foodborne Diseases. 2002. 2nd ed. Academic Press, London . pp. 31-51.
Foodborne Infections and Intoxications. 2006. 3rd ed. Academic Press, London . pp. 27-53.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) : An Overview
Dr Herman B W M Koëter
Deputy Executive Director,
European Food Safety Authority
EFSA was created in 2002 following a series of food scares in the late 1990s that caused the European public to voice concerns about food safety and the ability of regulatory authorities to fully protect consumers. As a result, the European Food Safety Authority was legally established by a European Parliament and Council Regulation adopted on 28 January 20021. The regulation lays down the basic principles and requirements of food law and stipulates that EFSA be an independent source of scientific advice, information and risk communication in the area of food and feed safety. It also requires that EFSA sets up a network enabling close collaboration with similar bodies in the EU Member States.
The Management Board has adopted a number of principles and rules that are core to the operation of EFSA. They include a commitment to openness and transparency in all its undertakings.
Importantly, the Regulation lays down a fundamental principle in the area of food safety policy by clearly separating the responsibility for risk assessment from that of risk management. While EFSA advises on possible risks related to food and feed safety, the responsibility for risk management remains with the EU institutions. Risk communication is a shared accountability of risk assessors and risk managers.
The scientific work of the Authority falls mainly into four themes.
Providing scientific opinions, guidance and advice in response to questions formally posedto the Authority or at the Authority's own initiative (self-tasking). It is expected that the number of questions submitted to the Authority will, again, increase in 2007. Together, the nine Scientific Expert Panels and the Scientific Committee will be requested to provide scientific opinions on probably more than 200 questions from the European Commission, the European Parliament and Member States . EFSA expects to reach a total of 350 opinions by the end of 2006.
Assessing the risk of regulated substances and development of proposals for risk-related factors. This part of the workload includes: the finalization of the pesticide risk assessment peer review; the provision of a scientific opinion on the safety of internationally harmonized Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) for pesticides; GMO risk assessment in cases of diverging scientific opinions between Member States; the scientific peer review and risk assessment of all new GMO dossier submissions and the administrative management of the GM food and feed applications; the assessment of safety and efficacy of substances and products in animal feed as well as the verification of the information submitted to the Commission during the notification period for all existing feed additives; the re-evaluation of food colourings; and the consideration of applications for the first list of authorised smoke flavouring primary products.
Monitoring of specific risk factors, zoonoses and animal diseases. The work related to the monitoring of specific risk factors and diseases covers the provision of scientific opinions on tests and other tools to control the risk factors and diseases. It also includes the geographical BSE risk assessment, the validation of BSE/TSE diagnostic tests, the monitoring and reporting of zoonoses and foodborne zoonotic agents, and the scientific review of new tools for the eradication of specific animal diseases.
Development, promotion and application of new and harmonised scientific approachesand methodologies for hazard and risk assessment of food and feed, for example through theorganisation of Scientific Colloquia. During 2006 EFSA organised three Scientific Colloquia.The series will be continued in 2007 and will focus on fundamental scientific issues of relevance and interest to the Scientific Committee and Panels. Their overall aim is to increase the understanding and promotion of new and harmonised scientific approaches and methodologies for hazard and risk assessment in the area of food and feed. For 2007 a maximum of four Science Colloquia are planned.
1 REGULATION (EC) No 178/2002 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 28 January 2002 laying down the general principles and requirements of food law, establishing the European Food Safety Authority and laying down procedures in matters of food safety
Defining the Responsibilities of Stakeholders within a National Strategy for Food Safety and Control
Dr Danilo Lo Fo Wong
Senior Research Epidemiologist, Danish Zoonosis Centre,
Department of Microbiology and Risk Assessment,
Danish Institute for Food and Veterinary Research , Denmark
Pathogenic microorganisms can enter the food chain at any point, from livestock feed, via the on-farm production site, at the slaughterhouse or packing plant, in manufacturing, processing and retailing of food, through catering and home preparation. In order to effectively manage the problem of foodborne disease, measures should be considered at all levels of production. This requires a coordinated surveillance and response effort from all major stakeholders in food safety.
The food industry is responsible for the quality and the safety of their products and is therefore a major stakeholder in food safety. Production may be monitored through certification programmes, process control schemes or HACCP-based control programmes. These control activities generate data that can constitute an important contribution to national surveillance programmes. In an outbreak investigation, additional sampling may be required to trace-back human infection to the point of contamination in the food-production chain. Close cooperation between the private and public sectors is therefore imperative.
The main stakeholders representing the government are the ministries of Health and the ministries of Agriculture/Food. Under them, agencies are responsible for the legislative, technical and practical implementation of food safety programmes. Each agency often has a dedicated reference laboratory associated with it. The access to surveillance data commonly goes through these laboratories. These organisational structures usually run independent of each other. In order to get a comprehensive view of the national food safety status, the ministries and their respective agencies and reference laboratories should work closely together.
Other stakeholders of food safety are the non-governmental organisations. They may represent consumers, food industry workers or environmentalists. Although these organizations seldom are directly involved in the generation of data, they can serve as a driving force behind the launching of food safety initiatives.
The main challenge is to develop a structure that ensures the systematic collection, collation, analysis and interpretation of surveillance data and communication to all public and private stakeholders involved. For this purpose, one or more steering committees with representatives of all stakeholders may be formed. The evaluation of all surveillance data from farm-toconsumption in a coherent analysis by these committees can then lead to a coordinated response.
The integration of foodborne pathogens and disease surveillance activities can be achieved through: 1) communication, 2) collaboration, 3) coordination and 4) central storage of data. Communication between major stakeholders can be maintained during regular meetings and direct, informal contact between veterinary and public health workers in key-positions. Collaboration consists mainly of the routine exchange of data and participation in outbreak investigation and response. Control activities need to be coordinated, within and between programmes. Managing a central database containing all surveillance data allows for coherent analyses of the relation between foodborne pathogen reservoirs and disease in time and space. These four components ensure the optimal use of data that already is being generated.
Food Safety Management Systems – Regulatory and Industry Programmes
Ms Judi Lee
Principal Advisor (Risk Management) and
Acting Assistant Director (Technical Standards and Systems),
New Zealand Food Safety Authority
The New Zealand Food Safety Authority has three major strategic goals. Two of these goals directly relate to the food regulatory programme and what it is expected to deliver. These goals are "the protection and promotion of consumer health" and "support of New Zealand 's economic growth and prosperity". The third goal is "the maintenance and enhancement of New Zealand 's international trade in food and food-related products". With these goals in mind, the Authority operates a food administration system with a clear programme emerging to implement a risk management framework that operates across the product to consumption continuum, and provides for a consistent and systematic process. Within this framework, knowledge on risk and available science plus evaluation of other factors relevant to control of food hazards considered. This enables the regulator to choose and implement appropriate regulatory standards or other measures such as implementation tools, relevant to the information available and the food sector involved. The setting of any regulatory standards must also incorporate a global perspective on food control and regulation, a key factor for a major trading nation such as New Zealand and reflected within the Authority's goals. A standards lifecycle process also is currently being established by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority, by which all New Zealand standards will be developed, implemented and reviewed on an ongoing basis. This lifecycle consists of eight modules that will be elaborated in this presentation. The standards lifecycle process is compatible with and complimentary to the risk management framework.
The New Zealand Food Safety Authority has been undertaking major reviews of both the domestic and imported food regulatory regimes and the outcomes of these reviews will impact on both regulatory function and what food businesses are required to do to ensure food safety and suitability within New Zealand . Requirements for food businesses, whether selling New Zealand-produced or imported food, will essentially be covered by one of three approaches: food control plans, national programmes or food handler guidance. These needs will be closely related to other more recently legislated requirements under the Animal Products Act 1999 and as a result, this will minimise change for those food businesses operating across more than one food related legislation. The Authority also has a close working partnership with many food sector organisations and will utilise this to maximum effect when requiring new industry programmes to be in place. This is especially relevant when producing appropriate implementation tools to assist a specific food sector.
The relationship and interface between regulatory and industry programmes are critical to the success of achieving the Authority's goals and will be explained in detail within this presentation.
The Risk Assessment and Risk Management of Chemical Contaminants in
Food in Canada
Mr John Salminen
Chief, Chemical Health Hazard Assessment Division,
Food Directorate, Health Canada
In Canada , the responsibility for food safety at the national level is shared between Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Health Canada is responsible for setting standards and policies relating to food safety and conducting risk assessments while the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responsible for inspection, surveillance and all compliance activities.Therefore, while the responsibility for quantitative risk assessment in the area of chemical contaminants, processing chemicals and natural toxicants rests with Health Canada, the risk management and risk communication activities in these areas are shared between the two agencies. The presentation will include a brief discussion of Health Canada 's risk analysis framework beginning with activities and procedures in the areas of risk assessment of chemical contaminants, processing chemicals and natural toxicants including some examples of recent initiatives in this area.
In situations where the risk assessment indicates that intervention in some forms is required to protect the health of consumers, the next step requires the identification and analysis of available options to mitigate risks and the selection of the most appropriate and effective risk management strategy. While a common strategy involves setting regulatory limits for the substance in one or more foods either at the national or international level, other strategies may also be used to mitigate the risk to consumers. Specific examples will be used to illustrate some of these strategies. Finally, the presentation will include a brief discussion of some of the challenges that we continue to face as we strive to assess risks, manage risks and communicate risk issues involving chemicals in the food supply.
Lessons Learnt from Chemical Contamination of Food to Improve Food Safety
Mr Nick Tomlinson
Head, Chemical Safety Division,
United Kingdom Food Standards Agency
Regulators have been dealing with chemical contaminants in food for many years. For example in the 19th century the adulteration of food was widespread. This led to the development of food safety legislation, which evolved from those early days to the extensive legislation we are familiar with today.
Limits have been set at either national or international level for some contaminants. Enforcement authorities then check compliance with these limits at various stages in the supply chain to ensure compliance with these limits. Despite these controls there have been several high profile food incidents in recent years. This talk will examine some of these cases for example acrylamide, semicarbazide, Sudan I and para red.
Preventing food incidents is in everyone's interest. In addition to the safety concern, frequent food incidents erode consumer confidence in both the food industry and in regulators. In addition, companies can incur substantial costs when faced with a food incident, for example, the Sudan I incident involving a batch of Worcestershire sauce reportedly cost the food industry ￡150m in 2005.
Improving food safety is an issue of importance in all countries. The production, supply and sale of food are now a global business. Whilst this brings many benefits to consumers, it presents a number of challenges. What might have been a local problem in the past can now rapidly develop into an issue of global concern. This is well illustrated by recent examples such as benzene in soft drinks, or new research data on aspartame.
Given the speed with which food is now moved around the world, it is important that food authorities have early warning of emerging problems. At one level this might be through informal information sharing mechanisms. At another level this might involve more formal mechanisms that exist at regional and international level such as the WHO/FAO INFOSAN network.
Looking forwards a significant contribution towards improving food safety could be made by a move towards more intelligence led enforcement. Individual enforcement bodies and third party auditors routinely collect vast amounts of information. This information could, if pooled together, be used to help identify persistent problems in the supply chain. This in turn could help inform the need for research and targeted guidance to address the problems. In some cases the solution might be simply improved communication. For example a producer in one country may not aware of standards operating in another country where end products are sold.
There are several actions that can help to improve food safety, but given the complexity of the supply chain, there is a need for collaboration between many different groups at both the national and international level.
Effective Risk Communication, Transparency and Consumer Confidence in
Professor Lynn J Frewer
Department of Social Science,
Wageningen University, The Netherlands
The occurrence of both national and international food safety incidents has led to decreased public confidence in the safety of food. Heightened public awareness of food quality and safety issues, taken together with public concerns about the effectiveness of food risk management practices, have contributed to the development of increased public distrust in food risk governance. As a consequence, recent changes in the institutional arrangements for food safety have occurred in many countries. The terms of reference of the newly formed food safety agencies in many countries encompass the concepts of openness and transparency, together with the precepts of independence, integrity and consumer protection. The introduction of such measures is explicitly aimed at improving public trust in food risk governance, and increasing public confidence in food safety. Research into public trust has focused both on people's trust in information sources and in regulatory institutions. "Source credibility" refers to people's perceptions of the motivations of institutions or individuals providing information to the public. "Social trust" refers to people's willingness to rely on those who have the responsibility for making decisions and taking actions related to the management of risks and technologies. Effective risk communication is contingent on delivering a clear message regarding risks associated with different food hazards, together with any associated uncertainties, including the nature and extent of disagreements between different experts. Targeting information to those most at risk is also important. In addition, societal priorities for risk mitigation activities may not align with those identified by expert groups. Failing to address such societal priorities may generate distrust in the motives of regulators and industry, with negative consequences for public confidence in regulatory activities linked to consumer protection. Communication about risk management practices reinforces transparency and public confidence, including the provision of information about proactive measures being taken to maintain consumer protection. Other factors may influence individual consumer responses to risk communication, including emotion (affect), attitude activation, and implicit memory. Consumer behaviours may be habitual or prone to optimistic biases, and new communication interventions must be developed if they are to influence the behaviour of vulnerable consumers. Future research must focus on how consumers make trade-offs between perceived risk and benefit associated with different potential food hazards, and what this implies for effective communication and transparency regarding risk management options. The potential influence of these factors on consumer confidence in risk management, as well as self-protective behaviours, will be discussed. It is concluded that the development of an integrated and transparent approach to risk analysis in the food sector is needed if consumer confidence in food safety is to be developed and maintained.
Lynn J Frewer, et al. (1996). What determines trust in information about food-related risks? Underlying psychological constructs, Risk Analysis, 16, 473-486.
Van Kleef, E., Lynn J Frewer, et al (2006). Perceptions of food risk management among key stakeholders: results from a cross-European study. Appetite 47, 46-63.
Risk Perception and Communication
Dr Julie S Downs
Director, Center for Risk Perception and Communication,
Department of Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University , USA
Done effectively, risk communication ensures that the audience has both qualitative and quantitative understanding of the risky behaviour or the decision that is facing them. There are many barriers to qualitative understanding: the tendency to simplify information, resistance to new ideas, attention to non-representative but salient information, and disregard of potentially important but missing information. Furthermore, the very definition of risk in the scientific community, and the public at large, is sometimes under dispute. These processes can lead to qualitative failures of risk communication.
There are also barriers to quantitative assessment of risks, including the non-intuitive nature of risk estimates, optimistic biases, especially unrealistic optimism, and poor calibration of risks given the uncertainty surrounding them. Innumeracy – a limitation in one's ability to use numbers intuitively and correctly – poses a major barrier in communicating levels of risk. Using relative risk to circumvent problems with innumeracy can lead to other problems, including optimistic biases. People who show particularly high and unrealistic optimism are more resistant to new and threatening risk information than others, even though they may have the most need for such information.
In exploring risk perceptions, we must examine the behaviors that people are engaging in. People may engage in risky behaviours for perfectly rational reasons: to try to get some benefit that they think they could not get otherwise. They trade off some sort of cost, or risk, against a benefit that they want. Risk perception is also related to past behavior. Recent research suggests that past experience leads people to see behaviors as less risky.
Food safety issues include elements of qualitative risk (e.g. how might contamination occur), quantitative risk (e.g. what are the chances that this particular source is unsafe), and behavior (e.g. have I eaten this food in the past). In order to fully understand how risk perceptions can lead to better or worse decisions about food safety, and to develop risk communications that will inform the public and lead to better behaviors, it is important to take a systematic approach. One such method, the "mental models" approach, compares the public's perceptions with the experts' formulation of risk. The deviation between these two models serves as a guideline for developing more effective communications that have a better chance of success. Examples of the mental models approach will be presented for multiple domains, along with recommendations for its application in food safety.
Risk Communication, Risk Perception and Human Behaviour
Professor Patrick Wall
Associate Professor of Public Health,
University College Dublin School of Public Health and Population Science and
Chairman, European Food Safety Authority
Are risks from food exaggerated or understated among the public and do the public fear the correct types of food risks? The risk of diet related disease is regarded differently, by individuals, to the risk of bacterial food poisoning and the risk of BSE and alleged foodborne risks like avian flu are internalised and processed differently from more salient risks. Despite the consequences for both the food industry and for human health of the inappropriate interpretation of health risks with resulting inappropriate behavioural change little is known about how to engender more rational evaluation of risk by the individual.
The public are risk averse to certain perceived risks whilst indifferent to other risks that they are exposed to which have higher probability of occurrence. As the noted psychologist Paul Slovic has consistently pointed out, risks tend to be over weighted if (i) they could lead to a catastrophic outcome (ii) they are immediate (iii) they have a dread factor-eg fatal incurable disease affecting the young, (iv) they are imposed by someone else (v) there is scientific uncertainty or (vi) they arise as a result of government incompetence. Although in the 80s Slovic used nuclear power as an example his headings could be used to explain consumer reaction to the BSE crisis that put human health at risk and resulted in the demise of both the UK Ministry of Agriculture and an EU Commission. It precipitated a review of the entire regulatory framework for the food chain throughout the developed world with a new culture of openness, transparency, trust and scientific robustness emerging.
A lot is spoken about the need for effective risk communication but it is extremely difficult to do well. This difficulty is well illustrated by a series of food scares over the last decade where in some cases the risk management response was more in proportion to the media coverage than the actual risk to the public's health. In other cases an understanding by the professional communicators in the media of the issues and their ability to translate scientific language into a format comprehensible by the public has resulted in a more rational and proportionate response.
The objectives of risk communication strategies must be clearly defined and the role of the national food agencies is pivotal if appropriate risk management responses are to result from the policy makers, the food industry and the consumer. The relationship between national agencies is key as food contaminants and food scares do not respect national boundaries and a consistent response to the management of risk and the communication of risk is required if consumer health and consumer confidence is to be protected.
This paper will illustrate by a series of historical examples the challenges faced by food agencies and the food industry. It will emphasise the need, as with risk management, to adopt a multidisciplinary science based approach to risk communication if a more rational response is to be achieved.
- Presentation Material (PDF Format)
- Speaking Notes (PDF Format)
- Video - 1 (WMV Format)
- Video - 2 (WMV Format)
Risk Perception in Chinese People – A Hong Kong Perspective
Dr Julian Lai
Associate Professor and Associate Head,
Department of Applied Social Studies, City University of Hong Kong,
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
Recent research on risk perception has shown clearly that culture, operationalized in various forms, is a major determinant of how risks are perceived and represented. The body of evidence generated by this line of research tends to suggest that an understanding of how individuals interpret risks cannot be attained without taking into account the socio-cultural context in which risks are framed and debated. Additional support of this contention has been provided by findings from a series of studies examining the perception of environmental risks in Hong Kong Chinese. Using an adapted version of the Environmental Appraisal Inventory, Lai et al. (2003) have shown that Hong Kong Chinese tended to perceive risks as more threatening than did Western samples surveyed in prior studies, which was attributed to a high degree of social interdependency characterizing most Asian countries. In another study looking at the cognitive structure of risk perception with the psychometric model, Lai and Tao (2003) have shown that the perception of their Hong Kong Chinese sample was explained more adequately by reference to a known and dread risk factor and a controllable risk factor than the well-documented structure defined by unknown risk and dread risk. This particular cognitive structure has been explained in terms of the ongoing influences of traditional Chinese values and beliefs, especially those closely associated with Confucianism, which may give rise to a coupling of "knowledge" and "dread" in risk perception. Results from a recent study on the perception of hazards related to food safety point clearly to the importance of trust in determining risk perception.
Taken together, the aforementioned evidence implies that similarities and differences of risk perception manifest at two different levels on which cultural and contextual factors have varying effects. The influences of cultural factors demonstrate themselves primarily at the implicit level which is associated with the operation of fundamental processes of cognition. On the other hand, the differences in perceived levels of threat for environmental hazards may stem from variation in contextual factors such as short-term economic and political histories, environmental landscape, degree of industrialization, and news media representation, whose influences are likely to operate at an explicit level. These processes may be relatively more malleable and originate possibly from the peculiarities of experiences of different groups embedded within a culture or society. This analysis may hopefully serve to illustrate how psychology can serve to bridge the gap between culture and risk.