Getting the question right is essential to achieve fit-for-purpose risk assessment supported by new methods and better use of data. Improved dialogue between risk assessors, risk managers and stakeholders can help manage expectations about protection goals and societal benefits. The evolution of science, acceptance of new methodologies and the interpretation of findings derived from these require mutual understanding and agreement as to how and when they should be integrated in the risk assessment process. Access to the ever-increasing amounts of data being generated through scientific developments and technological innovation is required to support the risk assessment community. These were the key findings of EFSA’s 10th Anniversary Scientific Conference on “Challenging boundaries in risk assessment – sharing experiences”.
Wrapping up the conference, Prof. Tony Hardy, Chair of EFSA’s Scientific Committee concluded, “This should not be a one-off. These scientific conferences should take place more often and focus on some of the issues raised. Science will always drive forward with developments in technology and also in scientific theory. We need to look across the compartmentalisation of science and techniques so that methods used successfully in one area can be applied in others in a multidisciplinary way.”
On the first day of the conference, Professor Steve Hathaway, from the New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries, delivered a powerful scene-setting presentation stressing the question of how we achieve fit-for-purpose risk assessments. He emphasised the dual importance of well-formulated risk management questions and a flexible approach to the risk assessment methodology that is used to generate answers. Taking as his theme, “simple is not stupid and complex is not always correct”, Prof. Hathaway argued that, “in some cases, simple spreadsheet models may be as effective as probabilistic models”. However, whether methods are simple or complex, uncertainties will always need to be explained. These ideas, of fitness-for-purpose and explaining uncertainties, formed a continuous thread throughout the conference.
In the final plenary session, bridging from academic research to regulatory science, Henrik Caspar Wegener of the Technical University of Denmark considered how data used for the scientific judgements inherent in risk assessment could be improved if the research that generates most of these data were to place a greater emphasis on their use for assessing risk.
After keynote speakers set out these challenges to the conference on Wednesday morning, experts rolled up their sleeves during five parallel break-out sessions to tackle these issues: identifying and characterising risk, environmental impact, exposure through diet, expressing risk, and the efficacy of products used in food and feed.