After a series of food safety scares in Europe the issue of exactly how to effectively deal with risk in the food chain is an ongoing debate between politicians, industry and consumer alike. One widely favoured opinion is that risk assessment and risk communication should be separate from risk management. In Germany last November the government minister Renate Künast did just that - she created a scientific institution 'independent of political, economic and social interests.'
From yesterday, Professor Andreas Hensel, veterinarian and hygienist, is the first head of the new German institution, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). An expert in the field of microbiology, molecular biology and infectiology, his remit is 'to use competence and transparency to strengthen consumer protection.'
And not only this, but to also 'raise BfR to the standing of an internationally renowned scientific body in the field of risk assessment.'
According to a statement this week from the BfR, Hensel stressed the need to distinguish carefully between existing knowledge and any gaps in knowledge in the event of a crisis. As a consequence, the most important task of the Institute will be to identify early on possible risks from foods, feedstuffs, substances and products and propose suitable measures in order to reduce them quickly and sustainably.
As with the young Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK, the BfR reported that active and extensive communication with the consumer is a high priority. The logic being that by improving transparency, the consumer will regain confidence in the system.
"I would be delighted",commented the President of BfR, "if we were to succeed in winning back the trust of consumers in food safety by means of independent scientific competence, consistent transparency and through involving consumers in risk assessment."
'Only an informed consumer has the freedom to decide for himself which risks he wishes to take and which he does not,' continued the BfR in a statement on Monday. According to the BfR, consumers will be represented on the Institute's committees and given an opportunity to input their knowledge into the assessment work.
With regards to assessment, expert examination and assessment of global information and data on hidden risks will be supplemented in BfR by research of its own. In addition, the BfR guaranteed consumers on Monday that in order to achieve greater safety of foods, feedstuffs, substances and products, it will work on the international stage and in close cooperation with the new European Food Safety Authority.