A Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on the Application of Risk Communication to Food Standards and Safety Matters was held from 2–6 February 1998 at the Italian Ministry of Health, Rome. The Consultation participants are listed in Annex 1.
Mr John R. Lupien, Director, Food and Nutrition Division, FAO, opened the Consultation by welcoming the participants on behalf of the Director-General of the FAO. Mr Lupien informed the participants that this was the third in a series of FAO/WHO expert consultations in the broad area of risk analysis. The first consultation addressed those elements of risk analysis concerning the process of risk assessment and was held in Geneva in March 1995. The second consultation was held in Rome in January 1997 and addressed those elements of risk analysis involved in the process of risk management. He noted that risk communication was once thought to be the process of communicating accurate and science-based messages about food risks from experts to non-experts or between experts. Present experience, however, has shown that there is a distinction between the preparation and dissemination of risk messages and the process of communicating these messages. Mr Lupien stressed that modern approaches include an interaction and dialogue between the risk communicator and the receiver of the communication, to develop the necessary understanding and confidence among all concerned that risks are being properly assessed and controlled.
Mr Lupien noted that risk communication includes all communication among scientists, policy makers and the public during the risk assessment and management processes. These various communications require different approaches and often result in varying levels of understanding. This results in differing degrees of communication effectiveness. Mr Lupien indicated that therein lies one of the major challenges facing this Consultation. In closing, Mr Lupien thanked the Italian Ministry of Health for providing the venue for the Consultation. He stated that this was a further example of the continuing co-operation between the Government of Italy and international agencies such as FAO and WHO.
Dr Fritz Käferstein, Director, Programme of Food Safety and Food Aid, WHO, welcomed the participants on behalf of the Director-General of the WHO. Dr Käferstein outlined the ongoing WHO activities related to food safety risk communication. He recalled that the WHO Constitution, which established the organization 50 years ago, foresaw a broad mandate for WHO in health risk communication as well as food safety. In particular, WHO's role in the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) is to assure that Codex recommended standards and codes of practice are protective of public health. He pointed out that WHO is also involved in a broad range of food safety activities in which risk communication plays a critical role. He emphasized WHO's advice to member governments on risk analysis related to food safety. He noted that two WHO publications would be issued in 1998 which address risk communication in food safety (1,2). He stated that it was clear that the deliberations of this Consultation and the ensuing recommendations will be very important to governments, industry, the consumer and the international agencies.
Dr Romano Marabelli, Director-General of the Department of Food, Nutrition and Public Health, Italian Ministry of Health, added his welcome to the participants on behalf of the Ministry of Health. He stated that risk communication is a very difficult process. He pointed out that good risk management strategies lead to real food security and that there is therefore a need to communicate to the public what is being done. He stressed the importance of this Consultation in providing guidance in this area.
The Consultation elected Dr Marabelli (Italy) as the Chairman and Mrs Helga Reksnes (Norway) as the Vice Chair. Dr Michael Bolger (USA) was appointed Rapporteur.