Nearly 100 people from a wide range of scientific backgrounds, including many risk assessors and risk managers, gathered in Parma, Italy, to discuss how to establish a harmonised approach to implementing protection goals in the environmental risk assessment of regulated products and invasive alien species.
EFSA’s 19th Scientific Colloquium – entitled “Biodiversity as a protection goal in environmental risk assessment for EU agro-systems” – was introduced by Theo Brock, Vice-Chair of the Authority’s Panel on Plant Protection Products and their Residues.
Dr Brock explained that effective environmental risk assessment (ERA) schemes require clear protection goals that specify what to protect, where to protect it, and over what time period. However, protection goals are described only in general – sometimes very broad – terms in EU regulations and risk assessors therefore have to translate them into specific protection goals (SPGs) when assessing pesticides, genetically modified organisms and invasive alien species. EFSA is currently exploring the possibility of developing a harmonised framework to specify protection goals that can be applied to an agro-landscape regardless of the product or organism that is being assessed. The colloquium had an important role to play in this work, Dr Brock said. He added that the colloquium would focus on biodiversity – the most common and prominent protection goal in ERA – and, in particular, the crucial questions of how biodiversity can be assessed and measured.
Invited experts then introduced the themes of the meeting, which were explored later in small discussion groups. Lorraine Maltby, from the University of Sheffield in the UK, reinforced Dr Brock’s comments, pointing out that the trade-off between agricultural production and biodiversity raised an important question for risk assessors: what risks to which elements of biodiversity are acceptable? She suggested that specifying protection goals in terms of ecosystem services – the benefits that humans derive from ecosystems ¬– makes the trade-off transparent and provides terminology for specifying protection goals such as protecting species diversity.
Monica Garcia-Alonso, from the London-based firm Estel Consult, led off on the topic “Making protection goals operational for use in ERAs” by proposing principles that could underlie a framework for moving from general protection goals to “fit-for-purpose” ERAs.
Michael Bonsall, from Oxford University’s Department of Zoology, explored “The role of population dynamics in protecting biodiversity”, focusing on modern approaches to understanding population dynamics.
Finally, Paul Jepson, from Oregon State University, examined “The role of population modelling in the assessment of recovery in ERA”, using case studies from the USA to illustrate how farmers can limit pesticide use and reduce the area of impact of pesticides in agricultural landscapes. In order to implement a recovery component to risk assessment, he underlined the importance of quantifiable goals that can be tracked in the fields to measure if the approach is effective. Also, monitoring results should be fed back to farmers, regulators and other stakeholders.
The themes introduced by the four speakers were discussed in detail at the afternoon sessions, and the overall messages were then presented at a plenary session the next morning.