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Risk Communication at SPS

Press Conf.

This week in Geneva, the Codex Secretary is taking part in a workshop run by the SPS Committee of the WTO.

One session has been dealing with risk communication and its importance to the SPS Committee for implementation by Members of the SPS Agreement.

WHO defines risk communication as:

the exchange of real-time information, advice and opinions between experts and people facing threats to their health, economic or social well-being. The ultimate purpose of risk communication is to enable people at risk to take informed decisions to protect themselves and their loved ones.

Speakers on the panel discussing frameworks and guidance in the area of risk communication included Professor William Hallman, Rutgers University Chair of the US FDA's Risk Communication Advisory Committee.

Professor Hallman describes risk communication as the interactive exchange of information and opinions about hazards and risks, risk-related factors and risk perception.

The panel, which also included representatives of IPPC, OIE and IICA, discussed differences between risk communication and crisis communication, how to translate risk assessment and risk management into risk communication and how to improve communication between risk assessors and risk managers. They also explored relevant international standards that provide guidance related to risk communication.

Current Codex guidance on risk communication can be found in the Working Principles for Risk Analysis for Food Safety for Application by Governments CAC/GL 62-2007. The guidelines underline the importance of exchanging information in relation to the concerns of interested parties about the risks associated with food.

Good risk communication may prevent disrupting markets. If an authority acts prematurely however and communicates to the public the source of a food-borne illness, based perhaps on only preliminary findings, the consequences for those farming and trading in the products that are blamed can be extremely costly. One example of this was the 2011 Germany E. coli O104:H4 outbreak.

Codex Members will decide if they wish to see additional guidance on risk communication in future work for the Commission.  

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