Information over food safety

About risk analysis – The relations between risk assessment and risk management

As the risk analysis system regarding food safety does not seem to be fully understood even today, we will provide information related to its important aspects and ideas as follows:

After several international bodies such as FAO, WHO, etc., started to discuss applying risk analysis to food safety issues in around 1995, each county has adopted a system for securing its food safety. In the meantime, the significance of risk analysis in securing food safety has been pointed out in Japan, especially arising from the need for devising measures against BSE.

Risk analysis consists of the following elements: 1) Risk assessment, a process of researching health hazard risks derived from food based on scientific knowledge (including conventional “safety assessment”), 2) Risk management, a process of selecting and executing the proper control method including regulations/plans based on the risk assessment result, and 3) Risk communication, an interactive process to exchange information and opinions on the risk and its control among the risk assessor, risk manager, consumers and all other people concerned.

As the risk assessment result must be used as scientific evidence required for the risk manager, the risk assessor should accurately understand the needs of the risk manager. In this sense, the assessor and manager have to fully communicate for better mutual understanding. However, the process of this scientific judgement loses its original function if it gets distorted or becomes biased by political pressure in risk management or religious pressure. Therefore, a functional separation of risk assessment and risk management is vital.

A risk manager is accountable for selecting, taking and executing measures regarding regulation or control based on the risk assessment result. Such measures must be reasonable from the viewpoints of economy, eating habits and securing food resources as well as from a long-term view. Needless to say, scientific and social-economic consideration on limiting health hazard risk, etc., is required. The information necessary for such comprehensive judgement is mostly gained through risk communication, and the measures will be established and executed by risk communication that could be understood and accepted by the people concerned.

Also, risk assessment led by a scientist should not be distorted by policymakers, and the relevance of the assessment results must be supported by scientific evaluation. Therefore, data used for risk assessment, assumptions, methods or conclusions, etc., should be disclosed. Construction and execution of measures for risk management should also be open to the people concerned to gain their understanding. Thus, transparency is regarded as essential for not only risk assessment but also for the process of risk management, although individual or public benefit and human rights must be still considered.

In Japan, the Food Safety Basic Act was enacted on the concept of such risk analysis. The Food Safety Commission assumes the role of a risk assessment organization, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare assumes the roles of risk management organizations. All the citizens in Japan should continue supporting and developing the initiative for food safety based on the risk analysis system, and the Research Center for Food Safety will support such challenges from a scientific aspect.

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