Safeguarding public health, protecting the environment and boosting trade in agri-food products are three good reasons to study food safety risk communication. To respond to demand from member countries, FAO teamed up with partners to develop a training package and handbook on the subject, and hosted a four-day pilot training workshop at its Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia here last week.
Food safety risk communication is managing food safety emergencies and crises and other food safety issues with potential for adverse effects on health, economy or trade. Developing sustainable risk communication capacity and expertise is an important priority for many national food safety authorities.
FAO – in collaboration with the World Health Organization and 10 risk communication specialists from government, industry and academia, and with financing from the United States Food and Drug Administration – produced the comprehensive, user-friendly handbook on “Risk Communication applied to Food Safety.”
The newly developed handbook and training package were pre-tested at a four-day regional FAO/WHO workshop (Budapest, 3-6 June 2014), co-organised in connection with FAO’s Regional Initiative on Agri-food Trade and Regional Integration.
The 35 workshop participants hailed from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Netherlands, Spain, Tajikistan, Turkey and Ukraine, and included public policy makers, specialists in agri-food, public health and food control.
Workshop instructors were William Hallman of Rutgers University, USA, and Lynn Frewer of Newcastle University, United Kingdom. Both are internationally recognised food risk communication experts and advisors.
The workshop featured a simulated press-conference with national food safety authorities facing a national foodborne outbreak scenario. Exercises served to model decision-making under conditions of uncertainty concerning what, when, and how to communicate information during a food safety emergency. Lectures and case studies presented by participants rounded out the course content.
What did the participants say?
“Effective management of food safety risk requires good collaboration between different public authorities, such as agriculture, food safety and health,” said Carolina Cerniciuc, head of the Public Health Department of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Moldova. “The workshop provided us with practical, useful and well structured tools, for efficient inter-sectorial collaboration before, during and after food safety outbreaks.”
“The workshop provided a good opportunity to learn about all aspects of food safety risk-benefit communication, including the sharing of lessons learned through past experiences,” said Orom Ziyoev, senior specialist with the State Veterinary Inspection Service of the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Tajikistan, a country that recently joined the World Trade Organization and is in the process of building its capacity to apply international standards.
Eleonora Dupouy, food safety and consumer protection officer with FAO’s regional office, noted that “risk communication in food safety is a relatively recent discipline, a high-impact factor in food safety risk management and in high demand for capacity development in the region. Risk communication in food safety needs to be better understood for its efficient use.”
12 June 2014, Budapest, Hungary