Risk benefit assessments on the agenda in Europe

Food, fish and agriculture

A European expert network is going to further develop and promote the use of risk benefit assessment to determine whether a food is generally good or bad for people’s health. The network was established at an expert workshop in May 2016 hosted by researchers at the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, with financial support from the European Food Safety Authority, EFSA.

Many foods can have both positive and negative consequences for people’s health, ecosystems’ sustainability and the economy. During the past decade, researchers have become increasingly interested in using quantitative methods to weigh up these consequences in order to assess the food’s overall effect.

Such risk benefit assessments can be used when formulating dietary advice e.g. about eating fish for good health, so that they also include recommendations on eating species that can be produced in a sustainable and financially viable way. 

A workshop organized by the National Food Institute in May 2017 gathered the leading European experts within this field for a chance to exchange experiences in using risk benefit assessments within the area of food safety.

Working together to promote understanding

The workshop participants have identified areas where the methods need to be improved and ways in which the experts can cooperate across borders to promote the understanding and use of risk benefit assessments in Europe.

The network – which is headed up by the National Food Institute – will do this e.g. through joint educational activities aimed at PhD students, researchers and authorities among others. The network also plans to apply for funding for projects that will further develop the methodologies.

Learning from each other

Risk benefit assessments have primarily become an established area of research in Europe, but the experience that researchers from different European countries have in this area differs greatly. 

E.g. researchers from the National Food Institute have a great deal of experience in carrying out risk benefit assessments that weigh up beneficial and harmful health effects, while their colleagues in the Netherlands have gone a step further and are working to incorporate sustainability and economics in their assessments.

The network allows experts in the various countries to learn from each other’s experience and competencies.

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The expert workshop received financial support from the European Food Safety Authority, EFSA.

The National Food Institute’s research into how risk benefit assessments can be further developed and optimized is described in further detail in a news item from the institute from 31 March 2016: Risk-benefit assessment: How healthy is our food?