Risk Assessment Research Assembly – February 18, Utrecht, the Netherlands

EFSA organized the first Risk Assessment Risk Assembly, with a view to stimulate new partnerships in food safety research to safeguard public health and highlighting the importance of public funding. The Assembly was a dynamic and interactive event that attracted 200 participants from 40 countries, including funders and policy makers at the EU and National level, members of EFSA Advisory Forum, Focal Points and Scientific Committee, and research organizations and networks.

The program consisted of:

  • “scene setting” keynote presentations from EFSA, European Commission and national food authority representatives;
  • expert panel discussions on both strategic and operational elements of future programming; and
  • an “ideas forum” where researchers “pitched”, directly and/or via posters, nearly 50 ideas for future research. The selected ‘ideas’ matched one of the 28 food safety risk assessment areas of priority for research identified by Member States and EFSA as part of the EU Risk Assessment Agenda (EU RAA; to be found at https://www.efsa.europa.eu/sites/default/files/AF/160608a/160608-ax5.pdf)

From TNO, Kitty Verhoeckx and Jolanda van Bilsen presented research ideas via both posters and pitches. Jolanda held a pitch on TNO’s risk-benefit assessment approach and discussed with several EFSA and EC staff members what it would take for EFSA to combine risk and benefit assessments, since EFSA now looks at safety and efficacy separately in their assessments. They all acknowledged that risk-benefit combination is important, but EFSA and the EC are definitely not ready for that and will still need quite some time (>10 years or so) before EFSA will have a mandate for combined risk-benefit approaches. Kitty held a pitch on behalf of the COST Action ImpARAS network on the Development of an allergenicity risk assessment strategy to support a safe introduction of new and sustainable food while protecting humans from unacceptable allergenicity risks. The Food Standard Agency showed much interest in this topic.

The 3 key outcomes of the RARA meeting were:

  1. Lack of coordination of national / European research efforts: EFSA was acknowledged as a knowledge broker and was called upon to coordinate future efforts, building on its already established and large network of research organisations spanning the entire food chain. E.g. via a Joint Programming Initiative (JPI).
  2. More emphasis on Impact: Future programming, particularly at EU level, need to demonstrate impact, and is likely to be framed within the context of the ‘Sustainable Development Goals” with a clear view that food safety research will continue to be a vital element requiring that priorities and impacts need to be articulated in this context.
  3. Need for more funding: a strong message on the need for increased public funding of food safety research to underpin risk assessments and identify emerging risks. Food safety is a public good that needs public investment.

Detailed material relating to the RARA event, including an e-inventory of research ideas, presentations, posters, abstracts, speaker and panel list biographies will be shared on EFSA’s website.