A Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on the Application of Risk Analysis to Food Standards Issues was held during March 1995 in Geneva. That consultation focused mainly on the use of risk assessment to assure a sound scientific basis for decision-making when considering food safety (3). It further recognized that the process of risk analysis is actually comprised of three interrelated processes, namely risk assessment, risk management and risk communication. The Twenty-first Session of the CAC, held in Rome later in 1995, endorsed this concept in principle and called on FAO and WHO to jointly convene additional consultations to address risk management and risk communication (4). In January 1997, a Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on the Application of Risk Management to Food Safety Matters was held in Rome. That consultation proposed a risk management framework, definitions of key terminology and general principles of food safety risk management (5).
Risk communication was defined by the March 1995 Consultation on the Application of Risk Analysis to Food Safety Issues as “an interactive process of exchange of information and opinion on risk among risk assessors, risk managers, and other interested parties”. The practical application of risk communication in relation to food safety involves all aspects of communications among risk assessors, risk managers and the public. This includes the mechanisms of delivery; message content; timeliness of the communication; the availability and use of supporting materials and information; and the purpose, credibility and meaningfulness of the communication.
With increased public concern regarding food safety, greater demands are placed on risk communicators to involve the public and other interested parties in an interactive dialogue and to explain the magnitude and severity of risks associated with foodborne hazards in clear and comprehensible terms that convey credibility and trustworthiness. This requires communicators to recognize and overcome gaps in knowledge as well as obstacles inherent in the uncertainties of scientific risk assessment.
The present Consultation completes the review of the three component parts of risk analysis and addresses the process of risk communication. The objectives of the Consultation were:
To identify the elements of, and recommend guiding principles for, effective risk communication;
To examine the barriers to effective risk communication and to recommend means by which they can be overcome;
To identify strategies for effective risk communication within the risk analysis framework; and,
To provide practical recommendations to FAO, WHO, Member Governments, the CAC, other international and national organizations, industry and consumers in order to improve their communication on matters related to the risk assessment and management of food safety hazards.
In addressing these issues, the Consultation was to consider the entire scope of the application of risk communication to food standards and safety matters related to health and trade. This includes the interaction between risk assessors and risk managers, and among risk assessors, risk managers, risk communicators and the public. In doing so, the Consultation was also to take note of the reports of the two previous joint FAO/WHO expert consultations (3,5).