A Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on the Application of Risk Analysis to Food Standards Issues was held at WHO Headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland from 13 to 17 March 1995. Participants included experts in food safety and risk analysis, representatives of international organizations and observers from relevant Codex Committees. The Consultation was convened at the request of the 41st Session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) Executive Committee which wished to promote consistency and transparency in the establishment of Codex standards, guidelines and recommendations. The main objective was to provide FAO, WHO and CAC as well as member countries with advice on practical approaches for the application of risk analysis to food standards issues
To accomplish this task, the Consultation first agreed on a number of definitions for food safety risk analysis. In doing so, the Consultation agreed upon a model for risk assessment which consists of four components: (1) hazard identification, (2) hazard characterization, (3) exposure assessment, and (4) risk characterization. In elaborating on this model, the Consultation limited its considerations to biological and chemical agents in or on food.
The Consultation did not discuss risk management and risk communication per se but did recognize that risk assessment and risk management had a number of significant interfaces. For example, establishing priorities and policies for risk assessment often includes input from risk management considerations.
In considering current Codex practices in the context of the risk assessment model, the Consultation recommended several changes in Codex practices to foster a harmonized approach within Codex, consistent with science-based risk assessment. In general, the Consultation recommended the separation of risk assessment and risk management activities particularly in the light of the World Trade Organization's Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. In addition, the Consultation recommended that exposure assessment generally be strengthened. The Consultation also recognized that risk managers in the Codex system needed to be informed of the degree of uncertainty associated with the output of risk assessment.
In considering the risk assessment of chemical hazards, the Consultation emphasized the need for better information to enhance the risk assessment process. In particular, obtaining better information on the mode of action of a chemical was considered to be an integral part of the approach. At the same time, the Consultation recognized that only in rare instances would all of the necessary information be available. Nevertheless, the Consultation considered that Codex had the responsibility to be "technology forcing" and strongly recommended the development of such data.
The estimation of risk from biological agents was also considered by the Consultation. Although less is known about the process of evaluating microbiological risks, such risks are in many ways a much larger and more immediate problems to human health than risks associated with chemicals in food. For these reasons, the Consultation considered how microbiological risks could be quantified and evaluated. While it is possible to develop useful techniques for risk assessment at this time, the Consultation recognized that more information and knowledge is required to adequately address risk assessment of microbiological agents.
The Consultation also considered ways in which uncertainty was associated with risk assessment. The process of risk assessment inevitably leads to an estimate of human risk. When that estimate is expressed quantitatively, the numerical result is often viewed as possessing a high level of precision. In reality, this number usually has large boundaries of uncertainty around it and risk managers must understand the nature of that uncertainty when weighing risk management options.
Finally, the Consultation recognized that additional consultations would need to be convened regarding specific issues in risk assessment as well as general consultations on risk management and communication. Nevertheless, the Consultation concluded that implementation of its recommendations would contribute significantly to the ability of Codex to meet its responsibilities of protecting consumers and facilitating international trade in food in a more consistent and open manner.