A Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on the Application of Risk Management to Food Safety Matters was held at FAO Headquarters in Rome from 27 to 31 January 1997. The Consultation participants are listed in Annex 1. The Consultation was opened by Dr. Hartwig de Haen, Assistant Director-General of FAO's Economic and Social Department, who welcomed the participants on behalf of the Directors-General of both FAO and WHO.
In welcoming the participants, Dr. de Haen noted that this was the second joint FAO/WHO expert consultation in the important subject area of the application of risk analysis to food safety, with the first, held in Geneva in 1995, having focused on the risk assessment component of risk analysis.* In this current consultation, the experts were being asked to address a central issue in food safety. Risk management, he observed, involves both the identification of the standards of acceptable risk appropriate to different types of food hazards, and the establishment of procedures to ensure that the risks are kept within the limits set by those standards.
* The first FAO/WHO expert consultation on risk, referred to elsewhere as the 1995 consultation, was the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on the Application of Risk Analysis to Food Safety Standards, held in Geneva, Switzerland, 13-17 March 1995. The conclusions and recommendations of that consultation are in Annex 2.
Dr. de Haen drew two important underlying considerations to the attention of the participants. The first was the imperative to keep the interest and the well being of the consumer as a fundamental consideration at all times. The ultimate objective of food safety standards is the protection of the consumer, and it is essential not to lose sight of this. The second important issue was that it is in the basic interest of everyone that trade in food be facilitated. This was, Dr. de Haen noted, the fundamental intended outcome of the Uruguay Round Negotiations and had been an important goal of FAO since its founding over 50 years ago.
Dr. de Haen reminded the participants that they had been invited to the Consultation as independent experts charged with the responsibility of advising FAO, WHO and their Member Nations, and that their participation in the Consultation was to be in their personal capacities as international experts in this subject area, and not as representatives of their governments, institutes or other organizations.
The Consultation elected Dr. Stuart Slorach as Chairman and Dr. Steve Hathaway as Vice-Chairman. Dr. Christopher Fisher was appointed as Rapporteur. In his opening remarks Dr. Slorach pointed out that the main goal of the consultation was to arrive at a series of recommendations on the application of risk management to food safety. These should be addressed primarily to the standard setting activities of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC), its subsidiary committees and advisory expert bodies, but they should also be of relevance to those involved in risk management at the national level. He urged participants to aim at providing a general framework for risk management, identifying the essential components in the process and the roles and activities of the principal parties. It was, he said, necessary to deal with the management of risk from both chemical and biological hazards in food, including the full range of acute and chronic adverse health effects. Likewise, it was essential to bear in mind the problems of both developing and developed countries.
Dr. Slorach pointed out that, even when dealing with risks arising from chemicals that had been the subject of extensive toxicological studies, risk managers find that there still remain gaps in the available information. In other instances, of which bovine spongiform encephalopathy was a good example, it was perhaps more correct to speak of "islands of knowledge in an ocean of uncertainty". The 1995 consultation had pointed out the need for risk managers to be aware of the uncertainty in risk estimates and to include this awareness in their management decisions.
Food safety risk analysis is an emerging discipline, and the methodological basis for assessing and managing risks associated with food hazards is still in a developing phase (1) (2). As discussed in the 1995 consultation, it is important to recognise the difference between "hazard" and "risk". A hazard is a biological, chemical or physical agent in, or condition of, food with the potential to cause harm. In contrast, risk is an estimate of the probability and severity of the adverse health effects in exposed populations, consequential to hazards in food. Understanding the association between a reduction in hazards that may be associated with a food, and the reduction in the risk to consumers of adverse health effects is of particular importance in development of appropriate food safety controls.