Piloting a process for Emerging Risks Identification: Lessons learnt and next steps

Question number: EFSA-Q-2012-00343
Issued: 6 July 2012
Report (1.2 Mb)

Abstract

A process for ERI was trialled and further developed between 2010-2012 by the Emerging Risks unit which has the responsibility of coordinating EFSA’s activities to establish a capacity for emerging risks identification (ERI). This included the implementation of an operational process for ERI, the assessment of selected data sources, the testing of tools for collecting information, the consolidation of knowledge networks for sharing information, and the development of a methodological framework. Using an expert judgment approach, specific issues were identified for follow-up activities including 4 outsourced projects (i.e. impact of climate change on aflatoxin emergence in cereal crops, omics technologies in risk assessment, a European-wide survey on energy drink consumption, and developing approaches for assessing human health risks from exposure to multiple chemical residues), 3 internal task forces (i.e. bee health, emerging tools and methods for hazard assessment, and chemical mixtures), and 2 reports on trade and food prices. These follow-up activities will contribute to the determination of whether the issues identified are indeed emerging risks. The issues prioritised were identified mainly from the scientific literature and expert networks. Overall, our experience shows that ERI requires a high level of expertise due to major data gaps and uncertainties in the evaluation process. Effective networking has proven to be essential for exchanging methods, data and evaluations of emerging risks. The system piloted has shown some potential for the identification of issues that may give rise to emerging risks, and useful knowledge has been gained in gathering and filtering large amounts of information, and building knowledge networks on emerging risks. Next steps include the establishment of a standing working group of the Scientific Committee on emerging risks, the reinforcement of the engagement with Member States and Stakeholders, the fine tuning of the methodological framework, and the completion of the projects on the issues identified.


Summary

The Emerging Risks (EMRISK) unit has the responsibility of coordinating EFSA’s activities to establish a capacity for emerging risks identification (ERI). This should provide an opportunity for risk assessors to undertake further investigations leading possibly to a full risk assessment, and for risk managers to subsequently potentially consider putting in place appropriate prevention or mitigation measures.

A process for ERI was trialled and further developed between Feb 2010 and May 2012. This includes (i) the implementation of an operational process for ERI, (ii) the assessment of selected sources of information, (iii) the establishment and testing of tools for the collection and filtering of relevant information, (iv) the consolidation of knowledge networks for sharing information, and (v) the further development of a methodological framework.

(i) More than 2200 issues, mainly from rapid alert system for food and feed (RASFF) and the scientific literature, were evaluated using an expert judgment approach. Specific issues were identified, for which follow-up activities have been initiated. These include 4 outsourced projects (i.e. a study on the emergence of aflatoxins in cereal crops in the EU due to climate change, a Europeanwide survey to gather consumption data on energy drinks focussed on young populations, a study on the future impact of omics technologies in food and feed safety risk assessment and ERI, and a project to develop approaches for assessing human health risks from exposure to multiple chemical residues), 3 internal task forces (i.e. on the bee health and weakening of honey bee colonies, emerging tools and methods for hazard assessment, and chemical mixtures), and 2 reports on the fluctuations in trade volumes and food prices as drivers of emerging risks. The information from these follow-up actions is being produced or processed in order to contribute to the determination of whether the issues identified are indeed emerging risks.

(ii) In this pilot phase, the usefulness, in terms of ERI, of five principle sources of information were assessed, i.e. the RASFF, the media, the scientific literature and trade and price data. Issues prioritised for action were identified mainly from the scientific literature, whereas the RASFF and trade did not seem to readily fit the purpose of ERI. Media monitoring appeared to have some potential in specific areas such as plant health, animal health and GMO. In order to collect and analyse trade and pricing data for the identification of drivers of emerging risks, expert consultations would be pivotal for the final interpretation of the results with respect to ERI. Knowledge networks of experts appeared to be the most profitable source of information for ERI.

(iii) A working group (WG) on data collection for ERI proposed a procedure to identify, assess, rank and prioritize data sources. In order to identify useful sources of information, however, clear targeted issues/topics should be first identified, as a systematic screening of data sources appreared to be unfeasible with the available resources. IT tools were developed and tested to support data collection. Whilst IT-tools could provide large amounts of information in a short time, they presented analysts with the additional problem of being overwhelmed by data that needed to be carefully screened and interpreted by skilled practitioners. In order to harmonise and standardise data collection and to facilitate information exchange among the different players involved in ERI, a semi-structured briefing note template and the EMRISK Monitoring Database were developed. This database includes essential information on all the issues evaluated and the decisions taken on follow-up actions. The use of templates and the maintenance of the EMRISK monitoring database appeared to be a valid support for the development of a standardised procedure for ERI, including ad hoc reporting and sharing of information.

(iv) Effective networking was identified as being essential for exchanging experience, methods, data and evaluations of emerging risks. To this end, the Emerging Risks Exchange Network (EREN) and the Stakeholder Consultative Group on Emerging Risks (StaCG-ER) were operated. In their first year of operation, the emphasis was on describing existing systems and methodologies used to identify emerging risks. It is proposed to reinforce the role and membership of EREN with selected EUagencies and with international authorities and organisations, and to encourage greater stakeholder engagement and data exchange with StaCG-ER. (v) A WG on methodology for ERI assessed the effectiveness of the procedure under development at EFSA, and proposed a revised simplified framework and several recommendations for improvement. Overall, our experience shows that collecting useful information on emerging risks requires a high level of expertise due to the data gaps, and broad knowledge of all ongoing EFSA activities to avoid duplication of work. It is, thus, proposed to establish a standing WG, including experts from the EFSA Scientific Committe and Panels, to work closely with the EMRISK unit.

Building on this hands-on experience, the system is starting to show the potential for the identification of issues that may give rise to emerging risks. In particular, useful knowledge has been gained in gathering, evaluating and filtering large amounts of information related to emerging risks and building knowledge networks on emerging risks. From this, a simplified and updated process will be implemented during the next three years.

Next steps include the establishment of a standing WG of the Scientific Committee to support EFSA activities on ERI, the reinforced engagement with the Member States Network and the Stakeholder Consultative Group, the fine tuning of the revised methodological framework, and the completion of the projects on the issues identified.


Published: 31 July 2012