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In this report, the Consultation has outlined the elements and principles of effective risk communication, as well as describing those barriers which may prevent or interfere with the communication process. These elements and principles are followed by proposed strategies to be considered for risk communication in both non-crisis and crisis situations. This final section will not repeat specific recommended strategies or suggested actions found earlier in the body of this report, but will focus on broad issues concerning risk communication and its application, which were considered and discussed by the Consultation.

The risk analysis process

Risk communication is essential throughout the risk analysis process. It was clear to the Consultation that if risk communication is to be effective, then several key issues dealing with the process itself, must be addressed. These include:

The Consultation therefore RECOMMENDS that:

  1. National governments and international agencies involved in food safety risk analysis, should seek to involve and gain input from all interested parties. This input will help risk assessors and managers to become aware of and consider, valid issues and concerns other than science.

  2. Persons with training and experience in the application of the principles and procedures of risk communication, should be part of any crisis management team involved in a food safety issue. Governments should establish training programmes in the principles and practices of risk communication for both risk assessors and risk managers. Risk communication training could also extend to selected members of national and international food safety standards-setting bodies.

  3. Communications between and among risk assessors, risk managers and other interested parties should use language and concepts that are readily understood by the target audience. This includes clearly identifying what is science, what are value judgements and what benefits, if any, are involved.

  4. Governments and agencies involved in risk analysis should use risk communication procedures to make the risk assessment process and the resulting risk management decisions as transparent as possible. This will increase the likelihood of both public understanding and acceptance of the risk management option(s) selected.

Codex and international agencies

The global nature of the food supply and world food trade has made food quality, safety and food security international issues. It is critical, therefore, that the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) and international agencies such as FAO and WHO, who are directly involved in food safety risk analysis, take the lead in establishing policies and procedures consistent with the principles of effective risk communication.

The Consultation therefore RECOMMENDS that:

  1. The CAC should consider amending the interim definition of risk communication contained in the Codex Procedural Manual, to read, “Risk communication is the exchange of information and opinions concerning risk and risk-related factors among risk assessors, risk managers, consumers and other interested parties.”

  2. The CAC should consider permitting the attendance of qualified observers at meetings of the Executive Committee of the Codex Alimentarius, which are presently closed sessions. This will improve transparency.

  3. The CAC should proceed as swiftly as possible to elaborate a Codex policy on what legitimate factors other than science should be considered in risk analysis.

  4. The CAC should continue and expand its efforts to increase the participation of those national governments and NGOs who are members or observers of the CAC but who are not presently active participants in Codex matters.

  5. FAO and WHO should identify and involve experts with a wider range of scientific perspectives in the work of international advisory bodies (such as JECFA and JMPR) and expert consultations. In this connection, consumer and other interested organizations should submit names and information on proposed experts for consideration.

  6. FAO and WHO should develop training or other programmes designed to increase the understanding of the risk analysis process and the role of risk communication, both for member countries and for international organizations active in Codex work.

National governments

The national government is responsible for food quality and safety within a country. The national agencies involved in food control are the primary sources for risk communication to the public on food safety issues. These agencies are typically also involved in any food-related risk analyses being conducted at the national level. The capability to effectively communicate risks should, therefore, be one of the highest priorities for these agencies.

The Consultation therefore RECOMMENDS that:

  1. Governments should increase their efforts to involve consumer and other interested organizations or groups in the national risk analysis process. Such groups can provide viewpoints and public perceptions that should be considered both in making risk decisions and in communicating those decisions.

  2. Member governments of the CAC should participate actively in Codex work so that the CAC may deal more effectively with food safety issues. To do so requires that governments consider the views of all interested parties when formulating the national position on a Codex matter. It further requires that governments communicate and explain the decisions of Codex to those same interested parties and to the public at large. The formation of National Codex Co-ordinating Committees should be given high priority to assist in this process.

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