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Promoting Food Safety through a New Integrated Risk Analysis Approach for Foods

Brief description

As a participant and sub-coordinator of the large-scale EU-project SAFE FOODS DIALOGIK has placed its first research emphasis on the field of food safety.

A series of food safety incidents over the past one and a half decades has brought about significant reductions in the levels of confidence which the general public has in food safety and the competence of the authorities formally charged with risk management. Public confidence was especially eroded by the BSE crisis which was provoked by the announcement on March 1996 that - contrary to earlier safety assurances - the consumption of BSE-contaminated foods was almost certainly the cause of the emergence of the new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Faced with these challenges, the EU and many Member States have decided to re-examine food safety policy and to re-structure institutional risk regulation. In several cases there have been major institutional changes since the turning point of the BSE crisis. These include, for example, the establishment of new food safety agencies at the EU-level (European Food Safety Authority, EFSA), in France (Agence Francaise de la Sécurité Sanitaire des Aliments, AFFSA), the UK (Food Standards Agency, FSA), and Germany (Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, BfR, and Federal Office for Food Safety and Consumer Protection, BVL).

Objectives and tasks
Against this background the EU-project SAFE FOODS has set as its overall objective to design a new risk analysis approach for foods (risk analysis describes the whole process of risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication) which shall be integrative in the following dimensions:

  • the model will be developed by experts of the natural and the social sciences;
  • the experts will base the model on scientific-technical analyses of safety issues, and social scientific analyses of consumers confidence/preferences in risk analysis practices for foods and the role of institutions across Europe involved in risk assessment and risk management;
  • the model will provide for the integration of different interests and value preferences in the process of risk regulation through the participation of stakeholders, i.e., concerned and interested social groups.

The key tasks of the project are:

  • to analyse in a comparative perspective food risks (the selected cases are maize and potato) associated with different breeding approaches and production practices (high- and low-input systems, genetic modification) with a methodological focus on the determination of metabolite profiles;
  • to identify the determinants of public and stakeholder perceptions and attitudes towards food risk analysis for the different breeding approaches and production practices under consideration, and to develop best practice in communication about food risk uncertainty (subproject/workpackage 4);
  • to study in a comparative perspective institutions across Europe involved in risk assessment and risk management (including the EU-level and five Member States: Hungary, Sweden, France, United Kingdom, Germany); this part of the project will analyse the present arrangements of food safety regulation, review recent changes of regulatory procedures and structures, and suggest possible further reforms for improving the architecture of food safety regulation in Europe; it places special emphasis on the question of how to better cope with systemic risks (workpackage 5).

The Integrated Project includes 32 partners from 15 European countries and from South Africa and China. The partners bring their natural and social scientific expertise into six research tasks (workpackages). Workpackages 1 to 3 deal with natural scientific questions, workpackages 4 and 5 with social scientific questions. The task of workpackage 6 is to integrate the outcomes of the five research tasks into the new risk analysis approach for foods.

The six workpackages are:

  1. Comparative Safety Evaluation of Breeding Approaches and Production Practices Deploying High- and Low-Input Systems
  2. Early Detection of Emerging Risk Associated with Food and Feed Production
  3. Quantitative Risk Assessment of Combined Exposure to Food Contaminants and Natural Toxins
  4. Consumer Confidence in Risk Analysis Practices Regarding Novel and Conventional Foods
  5. Investigation of the Institutional Challenges and Solutions to Systemic Risk Management
  6. Design of a New Integrated Risk Analysis Approach for Foods

DIALOGIK contribution

DIALOGIK coordinates workpackage 5 and participates in workpackages 4 and 6.

Publication:  Dreyer, Marion, Renn, Ortwin (2009). Food Safety Governance. Berlin/Heidelberg: Springer