Glossary

  • acceptable daily intake

    An estimate of the amount of a substance in food or drinking water that can be consumed over a lifetime without presenting an appreciable risk to health. It is usually expressed as milligrams of the substance per kilogram of body weight and applies to chemical substances such as food additives, pesticide residues and veterinary drugs.
  • active substance for pesticides

    A substance that acts against harmful organisms, such as pests or diseases, which affect plants.
  • acute exposure

    A one-off or very short term exposure to a substance, usually less than 24 hours.
  • adequate intake

    A dietary recommendation used when there isn't enough data to calculate an average requirement. An adequate intake is the average nutrient level consumed daily by a typical healthy population that is assumed to be adequate for the population's needs.
  • ADI

    The acceptable daily intake (ADI) is an estimate of the amount of a substance in food or drinking water that can be consumed over a lifetime without presenting an appreciable risk to health. It is usually expressed as milligrams of the substance per kilogram of body weight and applies to chemical substances such as food additives, pesticide residues and veterinary drugs.

  • ADME

    An abbreviation for "absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion", the four key processes which describe how drugs and chemicals get into the body, what happens to them while they are there, and how they are eliminated
  • adverse effect

    A change in the health, growth, behaviour or development of an organism that impairs its ability to develop or survive
  • adverse outcome pathway

    A method of visualising a chain of events linked by causality that may lead to a harmful outcome for organisms or the environment.
  • AI

    The adequate intake (AI) is a dietary recommendation used when there isn't enough data to calculate an Average Requirement. An AI is the average nutrient level consumed daily by a typical healthy population which is assumed to be adequate for the population's needs.
  • allergen

    A normally harmless substance, such as an ingredient in a foodstuff, that causes an (immediate) allergic reaction in a susceptible person.
  • allergenicity

    The ability to trigger an abnormal immune response that leads to an allergic reaction in a person.
  • alternative method

    A method which can be used in research to replace traditional animal testing with non-invasive methods or substitution. See also replacement, reduction and refinement (3Rs).
  • amino acid

    The constituent block that makes up proteins. Some can be produced by the human body whereas others can be obtained only through the diet.
  • animal cloning

    A technique used to make an exact genetic copy of an animal.
  • animal model

    A method involving animals or animal cells that tests how a substance or diet might cause ill-health in humans.
  • animal-based measure

    Standardised ways of assessing animal welfare based on animal responses.
  • antagonistic

    Describes a substance that acts in opposition to another substance, thus cancelling out its effect; for example, a hormone that, when released in the body, prevents another hormone from working.
  • antimicrobial resistance

    The ability of microbes to grow in the presence of substances specifically designed to kill them; for example, some human infections are now resistant to antibiotics, raising concerns about their widespread use.
  • aquatic ecotoxicology

    A field of science which studies the impact of toxic substances on water life (e.g. fish, crustaceans, aquatic plants and algae).
  • AR

    The average requirement (AR) is the level of a nutrient in the diet that meets the daily needs of half the people in a typical healthy population.
  • average requirement

    The level of a nutrient in the diet that meets the daily needs of half the people in a typical healthy population.
  • bee brood

    A collective name for the offspring of bees from a single hatch.
  • benchmark dose

    The minimum dose of a substance that produces a clear, low level health risk, usually in the range of a 1-10% change in a specific toxic effect such as cancer induction.
  • bioassay

    A standard way of measuring how a substance (e.g. a vitamin, hormone or fertiliser) has affected an organism or a tissue within that organism.
  • bioavailability

    A term to describe how much of a substance gets into the blood through a variety of routes, including the diet. It may refer to vitamins, additives, pesticides or medicines.
  • biocide

    A preparation of one or more active substances (see definition) designed to use chemicals or other means to kill or halt the actions of harmful organisms such as plant diseases or animal infections.
  • biodiversity

    A term used to describe the variety of living organisms existing in a specific environment.
  • bioinformatics

    An umbrella term for biological studies that use computer programming as part of their methodology. Bioinformatics combines computer science, statistics, mathematics and engineering to study and process biological data. See also Transcriptomics, Proteomics and Metabolomics.
  • biological relevance

    An event or occurrence is defined as having biological relevance if its size or implications are likely to have consequences for human health.
  • biomarker

    A characteristic that is objectively measured and can be viewed as an indicator of a normal biological process, a disease process, or a typical response to a drug or therapy; for example, blood pressure.
  • BMD

    The benchmark dose (BMD) is the minimum dose of a substance that produces a clear, low level health risk, usually in the range of a 1-10% change in a specific toxic effect such as cancer induction.
  • BMI

    The body mass index (BMI) is a measurement that expresses the relationship between an individual’s weight and height. BMI is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in metres squared (i.e. height x height). Used to assess whether someone’s weight is appropriate.
  • body mass index

    A measurement that expresses the relationship between an individual’s weight and height. BMI is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in metres squared (i.e. height x height). Used to assess whether someone’s weight is appropriate.
  • botanical

    A substance, used either as a food or a medicine, derived from plants, fungi, algae or lichens.
  • breeding programme

    A structured programme to improve a population of plants or animals by breeding for certain characteristics.
  • burden of disease

    How a disease affects a population in terms of ill-health, risk of death, financial cost of treatment or other recognised indicators.
  • carbohydrates

    A family of nutritional substances that includes sugars, starches and fibres.
  • carcinogenicity

    Cancer-causing property of a substance when an animal or human is exposed to it.
  • chemical hazard

    Health hazard resulting from exposure to a chemical; for example, irritation, burns, carcinogenicity.
  • chemical mixture

    Mixtures of substances in which each chemical may have a separate identifiable effect on the body and/or a combined effect.
  • chemical residue

    Tiny amounts of chemicals found in foodstuffs which have been exposed to pesticides, environmental toxins or related products.
  • chronic exposure

    A long-term constant or intermittent exposure to a substance which may have an impact on health over time.
  • co-resistance

    Genetically-conferred resistance in an organism (e.g. the resistance of a plant to a disease) that results from two or more linked genes being passed down the generations.
  • comparative assessment

    Required in law, an assessment designed to compare the safety of a genetically modified (GM) organism against its non-GM bred counterpart.
  • confidence interval

    A statistical term to describe a range within a distribution where you would expect most of the data to lie; for example, expecting that 95% of adults will be between 1.4m and 1.9m tall.
  • conservative assumption

    An estimate that tends to err on the side of caution or gives a 'worst case scenario'. Often used in risk assessment to ensure that as much risk as possible is taken into account.
  • contaminant

    Any substance occurring in foodstuffs that was not added intentionally. Contaminants can arise from packaging, food processing and transportation, farming practices or the use of animal medicines. The term does not include contamination from insects or rodents.
  • correlation

    A statistical term to describe the relationship between two variables (e.g. calcium intake and bone growth).
  • critical effect

    The adverse effect seen at the lowest dose when a vulnerable population is exposed to a substance such as an environmental or food toxin. This can relate to humans as well as to other species such as animals, plants or microbes.
  • cross contamination

    The process by which microbes are unintentionally transferred from one substance or object to another, with harmful effect.
  • cross reactivity

    A situation where an allergic reaction to one substance also leads to an allergic reaction to another substance. This is usually because the allergens (e.g. peanuts and tree nuts) possess similar characteristics which trigger the body's immune defences.
  • cumulative assessment group

    Chemicals that are considered as a group because they are likely to act on the body in the same way.
  • cumulative effect

    A term used to describe how exposure to more than one chemical might affect the body. Used to explain long-term exposure to mixtures of chemicals, such as pesticides or additives.
  • cumulative risk assessment

    A method of assessing risks to health or the environment posed by multiple substances such as chemicals.
  • deficiency

    A lack of a necessary factor in, for example, the diet or the environment which results in harm to the growth of an organism.
  • degradation product

    Chemical that is formed when a substance breaks down or decomposes.
  • degradation rate

    A way of describing how quickly a substance (e.g. pollution in a river) will break down and be eliminated from an environment.
  • developmental toxicity

    Any adverse effect on the development of the unborn, babies, infants or children when exposed to a toxic substance.
  • dietary exposure

    For the purposes of risk assessment, measurement of the amount of a substance consumed by a person or animal in their diet that is intentionally added or unintentionally present (e.g. a nutrient, additive or pesticide).
  • dietary reference value

    The complete set of reference values for nutrient intake comprising Population Reference Intakes (PRI), Average Requirements (AR), Adequate Intakes (AI), Lower Threshold Intakes (LTI) and Reference Intakes (RI). DRVs are typically used as a basis for reference values in food labelling and for establishing food-based dietary guidelines.
  • dioxin

    Persistent, chlorine-containing organic pollutant which occurs as by-product of industrial processes. It can accumulate in the food chain and pose a serious public and environmental health risk.
  • disease outbreak

    An excess of disease cases compared to what would be normally expected in a population. An outbreak may occur in a restricted geographical area, or may extend over several countries. It may last for a few days or weeks, or for several years.
  • DNA

    A complex chain-like molecule that carries the genetic material, present in living organisms and some viruses. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is capable of copying itself and carries the instructions for all the proteins used to create and sustain life.
  • DNA sequence

    The exact order of units in a DNA chain.
  • dose

    The total amount of a substance (e.g. a chemical or nutrient) given to, consumed or absorbed by an individual organism, population or ecosystem.
  • dose addition

    A process to establish the response of organisms to a mixture of chemicals with similar toxicity. This involves adding up their individual effects to predict the likely impact of the overall mixture.
  • dose response

    The relationship between the amount of a substance to which an individual organism, population or ecosystem is exposed and the way in which it responds (e.g. in terms of toxicity).
  • DRV

    Dietary reference values (DRVs) are the complete set of reference values for nutrient intake comprising Population Reference Intakes (PRI), Average Requirements (AR), Adequate Intakes (AI), Lower Threshold Intakes (LTI) and Reference Intakes (RI). DRVs are typically used as a basis for reference values in food labelling and for establishing food-based dietary guidelines.
  • E number

    A number used in the European Union to identify permitted food additives. An E number means that an additive has passed safety tests and has been approved for use.
  • ecological recovery

    The return of a population or ecosystem to a pre-defined status after a disturbance to its normal activities (e.g. exposure to a toxin or pest, or a change in food supply). 
  • ecological recovery option

    Risk management option accepting some level of effect from exposure to a chemical, biological or physical stressor in a population or ecosystem if ecological recovery takes place.
  • ecological threshold option

    Risk management option accepting a negligible level of effect from exposure to a chemical, biological or physical stressor in a population or ecosystem.
  • ecosystem

    A community of living organisms in conjunction with non-living components (e.g. air, water and mineral soil). A healthy ecosystem is a finely balanced system where animals, plants and microbes live in harmony with their environment.
  • ecosystem services

    Benefits to human or animal populations provided by an ecosystem, such as food or fuel provision, natural medicinal ingredients, and maintenance of soil fertility.
  • ecotoxicology

    The study of the adverse impacts of substances, particularly chemicals, in relation to the environment and public health.
  • efficacy

    How well something works in relation to predefined standards or expectations.
  • emerging risk

    A risk to human, animal or plant health resulting from a new source or increased susceptibility or exposure to an existing source.
  • endemic

    Consistently present in a population or region, whether dormant or active as measured by clinical tests.
  • endocrine active substance

    Chemical that can interact with the body's endocrine (hormone) system. 
  • endocrine disruptor

    A substance that adversely affects the endocrine (hormone) system leading to negative effects for organisms and/or their offspring.
  • endogenous

    Describes substances which naturally occur within the body; for example, cholesterol.
  • endpoint

    A physical or chemical outcome that can be assessed by a test; for example, blood pressure or levels of a potential toxin in the body.
  • Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA)

    The process of assessing potential harm to the environment caused by a substance, activity or natural occurrence. This may include the introduction of GM plants, the use of pesticides, or the spread of plant pests.
  • environmental toxicity

    The negative impact of a substance or activity (e.g. chemicals, GM crop introduction) on a population of animals, plants or microbes in the environment (e.g. water, soil).
  • enzyme

    A protein which stimulates or hastens a specific reaction in the body; for example, digestive enzymes help to break down food into nutrients.
  • epidemic

    A widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time.
  • epidemiological indicator

    A measurement which identifies how widespread and potent a hazard is in a population, or which acts as an indicator of risk to human health; for example, poor hygiene ratings in food outlets acting as a proxy for risk of food poisoning.
  • epidemiology

    The study of how often diseases and other health conditions occur in different groups of people and why. It includes the study of health-related measurements (e.g. pesticide exposure or vitamin deficiency) in a population and how they may influence the risk of ill health.
  • ERA

    Environmental risk assessment (ERA) is the process of assessing potential harm to the environment caused by a substance, activity or natural occurrence. This may include the introduction of GM plants, the use of pesticides, or the spread of plant pests.
  • essential nutrient

    Any substance which a living organism must consume from the diet in order to support normal health, development and growth.
  • EU regulatory framework

    The name given to policies and laws in Europe which collectively protect the consumer.
  • exogenous

    Describes substances within the human body which have arisen from an external source in the diet or environment; for example, veterinary medicine residues.
  • exposure

    Concentration or amount of a particular substance that is taken in by an individual, population or ecosystem in a specific frequency over a certain amount of time.
  • exposure assessment

    One of the key steps in risk assessment, this relates to a thorough evaluation of who, or what, has been exposed to a hazard and a quantification of the amounts involved.
  • expressed protein

    A protein which is made to a particular DNA recipe. Typically used to mean a protein generated as a consequence of the genetic manipulation of an organism.
  • feed additive

    Product intentionally added to animal feed to improve: i) the quality of the feeds ii) the quality of the food products obtained from animals; iii) animal performance and health.
  • field trial

    Test conducted on crops to establish how much pesticide remains after normal farming practices and for how long pesticides and their residues persist in the crops. The test results are used to inform rules about permitted amounts of pesticide residues in foodstuffs.
  • flavouring

    Ingredient added to foodstuffs to alter their flavour or odour.
  • follow-on formula

    Breast milk substitute aimed at infants who have commenced complementary feeding (i.e. the introduction of solid foods at or around 6 months of age).
  • food additive

    A substance deliberately added to foods or beverages for beneficial technological reasons (e.g. to preserve, flavour, colour or ensure a particular texture). Food additives are not normally consumed by themselves nor used as typical ingredients in food.
  • food contact material

    Any material, typically packaging or kitchen equipment, designed to come into contact with foodstuffs.
  • food supplement

    Foodstuff containing concentrated amounts of nutrients or other substances that are intended to supplement the normal diet.
  • food-based dietary guidelines

    Science-based recommendations for healthy eating which translate numerical nutrition targets into lay advice on what foods to eat.
  • foodborne disease

    An illness caused by foods or drinks which have been contaminated by toxins or harmful microbes (e.g. bacteria, viruses).
  • foodborne outbreak

    Two or more people developing the same foodborne illness after eating or drinking the same food.
  • general function claim

    A type of health claim which infers that a nutrient or food ingredient can influence the maintenance of normal human health or performance, or support weight control.
  • genetic diversity

    Genetic variation between and within species.
  • genetically modified organism

    An organism which contains genetic material that has been deliberately altered and which does not occur naturally through breeding or selection.
  • genome

    The entire amount of genetic material found in the cells of living organisms.
  • genotoxicity

    When a substance is capable of damaging the DNA in cells.
  • genotyping

    A method of visualising one or more genes in a living organism. It is often used as a means to understand a particular trait.
  • genus

    A recognised way of categorising closely related species of organisms. The genus is the first part of the Latin name of a species; for example, Homo Sapiens (human being) is part of the genus Homo.
  • GLP

    Good laboratory practice (GLP) is a standardised way of planning, performing and reporting laboratory-based studies to ensure a high standard of quality and reliability.
  • GMO

    A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism which contains genetic material that has been deliberately altered and which does not occur naturally through breeding or selection.
  • GMO non-target organism

    Other organism that is not genetically modified but which may interact with, or be affected by, the presence of a GM organism.
  • GMP

    A good manufacturing practice (GMP) is any practice regarding the conditions and measures necessary to ensure the safety and suitability of food at all stages of the food chain.
  • good hygiene practice

    A standardised way of operating which ensures that foodstuffs are produced safely and hygienically.
  • good laboratory practice

    A standardised way of planning, performing and reporting laboratory-based studies to ensure a high standard of quality and reliability.
  • good manufacturing practice

    Any practice regarding the conditions and measures necessary to ensure the safety and suitability of food at all stages of the food chain.
  • HACCP

    A hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) is a system that identifies, evaluates and controls hazards to food safety. It is implemented by food businesses to ensure safe production, storage and transport of food.
  • half-life

    The time required for 50% of a substance present in an individual, population or ecosystem to break down or be eliminated naturally. It is often used to describe the disappearance of potentially harmful substances such as chemical toxins.
  • hazard

    A substance or activity which has the potential to cause adverse effects to living organisms or environments.
  • hazard analysis and critical control point

    A system that identifies, evaluates and controls hazards to food safety. It is implemented by food businesses to ensure safe production, storage and transport of food.
  • hazard characterisation

    The second step in risk assessment, this involves defining the nature of the adverse health effects associated with biological, chemical and physical agents which may be present in food. The process should, if possible, involve an understanding of the doses involved and related responses.
  • hazard identification

    The first step in risk assessment, this involves the identification of biological, chemical, and physical agents capable of causing adverse health effects.
  • health claim

    Any practice (e.g. a statement or visual) used in food marketing to suggest that health benefits can be gained from consuming a given food, nutrient or ingredient.
  • health-based guidance value

    Guidance on safe consumption of substances that takes into account current safety data, uncertainties in these data, and the likely duration of consumption.
  • holistic approach

    An approach to risk assessment that takes into account the complexities of real life situations.
  • host plant

    A plant on which a pest lives or by which it is nourished.
  • human biomonitoring

    A direct measurement of the level of toxic chemical compounds present in the body. Often, these measurements are made using blood and urine.
  • human-animal interface

    A term to describe the myriad ways that animals and humans can interact, thus establishing a route for diseases to be transmitted (e.g. through foodstuffs or contaminated environments).
  • immunotoxicity

    Any adverse effect on the immune system (e.g. allergy or inflammation) that results from exposure to toxic substances.
  • impurity

    Any foreign body present in a food or feed which may arise due to errors in manufacturing, storage or transportation.
  • in silico

    Research theoretical method, particularly involving computer models, to predict the likely toxicological, or other, effects of substances.
  • in vitro

    Research method which involves testing cells or tissues extracted from living organisms.
  • in vivo

    Research method which involves testing individual live animals or populations of live animals.
  • incidence

    The number of new events occurring within a specified time period within a defined geographical area; for example, the number of flu cases per year in Europe.
  • ingredient

    Any substance deliberately added to a foodstuff which will remain in the finished product, even in an altered form.
  • inorganic compound

    Chemical that does not generally contain carbon; for example, water, oxygen, sodium chloride.
  • insecticide

    A substance that kills insects.
  • intake

    The amount of a substance (e.g. nutrient or chemical) that is ingested by a person or animal via the diet.
  • intolerance

    A reaction to a substance that is not caused by an immune response. Intolerances are more common than allergies but are less serious.
  • invasive species

    Animal, plant or other organism introduced by man into places out of its natural range of distribution.
  • irradiation

    Treatment of foodstuffs with radiation (e.g. X-rays) as a means of killing potentially harmful bacteria.
  • isolate

    A single substance or culture of microbes obtained in pure form from a mixture of substances or bacteria.
  • limit of detection

    The lowest concentration of a substance that can be detected using standard tests but which is too small to be measured with certainty.
  • limit of quantification

    The lowest concentration of a substance that can be measured with certainty using standard tests.
  • lipid

    Fat and fat-like substance.
  • LOAEL

    The lowest observed adverse effect level (LOAEL) is the lowest level of a substance that has been observed to cause harm in an exposed population.
  • LOD

    A limit of detection (LOD) is the lowest concentration of a substance that can be detected using standard tests but which is too small to be measured with certainty.
  • LOQ

    The limit of quantification (LOQ) is lowest concentration of a substance that can be measured with certainty using standard tests.
  • low dose effect

    Effect which occurs at low doses of a substance, i.e. below those doses traditionally used for toxicological studies.
  • lower bound estimate

    An estimate of the minimum exposure to a potentially harmful substance, normally zero, which takes into account normal consumption of food which contains negligible amounts of the substance.
  • lowest observed adverse effect level

    The lowest level of a substance that has been observed to cause harm in an exposed population.
  • macronutrient

    A calorie-containing component of food (e.g. fat, protein, carbohydrate) which is needed in significant quantities for normal growth, development and maintenance of health.
  • margin of exposure

    A tool used in risk assessment to explore safety concerns arising from the presence of a potentially toxic substance in food or animal feed.
  • margin of safety

    The gap between the actual intake of a substance by a given population and the estimated daily dose over a lifetime that experts consider to be safe.
  • maximum permitted level

    The maximum amount of a contaminant, naturally occurring toxin or nutrient allowed in foods or animal feeds.
  • maximum residue level for pesticides

    The maximum amount of a pesticide residue allowed in foods or animal feeds, expressed as milligrams per kilogram.
  • mechanism of action

    The process by which a substance produces an effect on a living organism.
  • mechanism of toxicity

    The specific sequence of events explaining how a substance causes a toxic effect.
  • meta-analysis

    A statistical method which enables the results of similar studies to be pooled in order to determine any significant trends.
  • metabolism

    The total sum of physical and chemical processes that occur within living organisms.
  • metabolite

    Substance formed as a consequence of metabolism in an organism.
  • metabolomics

    The study of an organism's metabolic state through the systematic analysis of its metabolites within cells or biological fluids (e.g. blood, urine).
  • micronutrient

    Nutrient required by the body in tiny amounts for normal growth, development and maintenance of health; for example, vitamins and minerals.
  • mineral

    A naturally occurring inorganic element (e.g. calcium, iron) that is needed in the diet for normal growth, development and health.
  • mode of action

    A sequence of events, identified by research, which explains an observed effect.
  • MOE

    The margin of exposure (MOE) is a tool used in risk assessment to explore safety concerns arising from the presence of a potentially toxic substance in food or animal feed.
  • molecular typing

    A way of identifying specific strains of organisms by looking at their genetic material. Often used to characterise bacteria or viruses.
  • MRL

    The maximum amount of a pesticide residue allowed in foods or animal feeds, expressed as milligrams per kilogram.
  • mutagenicity

    The capacity to cause permanent, typically negative, changes to an organism and any offspring by altering the structure of its DNA.
  • mutation

    A permanent, typically negative, change in the genetic material in a cell which, in most cases, can be passed onto any offspring.
  • mycotoxin

    Toxin produced by certain species of mould which are dangerous to humans and animals.
  • nanomaterial

    Natural or manufactured material which contains miniscule single units typically measuring between 1 and 100 nanometers. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter (a human hair is 80,000-100,000 nanometers wide).
  • nanoscience

    The study of nanomaterials.
  • neurotoxicity

    Any adverse effect on the nervous system (e.g. paralysis or loss of function) that results from exposure to potentially toxic substances.
  • nitrogen balance

    The difference between nitrogen intake from the diet (mainly from proteins) and the amount of nitrogen lost in body waste (e.g. faeces).
  • NMDRC

    The non-monotonic dose-response curve (NMDRC) is a complex relationship between the dose of a substance and its effect, such that instead of a certain response simply increasing or decreasing with dose, the curve may be for example "U" shaped.
  • No Observed Adverse Effect Level (NOAEL)

    The greatest concentration or amount of a substance at which no detectable adverse effects occur in an exposed population.
  • NOAEL

    The no observed adverse effect level (NOAEL) is the greatest concentration or amount of a substance at which no detectable adverse effects occur in an exposed population.
  • non-monotonic dose-response curve

    A complex relationship between the dose of a substance and its effect, such that instead of a certain response simply increasing or decreasing with dose, the curve may be for example "U" shaped.
  • novel food

    Foodstuff or food ingredient that was not used for human consumption to a significant degree within the European Union before 15 May 1997.
  • nutrient

    An element or compound needed for normal growth, development and health maintenance. Essential nutrients cannot be made by the body and must, therefore, be consumed from food.
  • nutrition

    The science of how diet relates to the body's need for sustenance.
  • nutrition claim

    A statement that implies that a foodstuff has beneficial nutritional properties, such as being “low fat” or “high in fibre”.
  • occurrence

    The fact or frequency of something (e.g. a disease or deficiency in a population) happening.
  • omics

    High-powered technologies used for holistic analysis of the molecules that make up the cells of living organisms; for example, Genomics is the study of the entire genome, while Proteomics analyses the complete complement of proteins within a biological sample.
  • organic compound

    Chemical containing carbon; often derived from plants, animals or bacteria.
  • organism

    A living thing such as humans, animals, plants and microbes (e.g. bacteria, viruses)
  • PAL

    A physical activity level (PAL) is a way of estimating physical activity in a person by looking at energy (calorie) usage over 24 hours in relation to the amount of energy needed to fuel the body at rest.
  • pandemic

    An epidemic that becomes very widespread and affects a region, continent or the whole world.
  • pathogen

    Organism (e.g. bacterium, virus and parasite) that can cause disease.
  • pathogen-host interaction

    The interaction between a pathogen (a disease-causing organism such as a bacterium, virus or parasite) and the living organism, or host, which can develop the disease.
  • percentile

    A way of visualising the low, medium and high occurrences of a measurement (e.g. vitamin C intake) by splitting the whole distribution into one hundred equal parts.
  • permissible level

    Maximum level of a substance or other agent to which people can safely be exposed over a specified period of time.
  • pest

    A living organism (e.g. an insect, rodent, weed, fungus or virus) that is harmful to plants and/or their products (e.g. seeds, fruits)
  • pest reporting

    A reporting procedure that identifies actual or potential risk from the occurrence, outbreak or spread of a pest defined as requiring quarantine in a particular geographical area.
  • pesticide

    Substance used to kill or control pests, including disease-carrying organisms and undesirable insects, animals and plants.
  • Physical Activity Level (PAL)

    A way of estimating physical activity in a person by looking at energy (calorie) usage over 24 hours in relation to the amount of energy needed to fuel the body at rest.
  • Plant Protection Product (PPP)

    Products used to protect, preserve or influence the growth of desirable plants or to destroy or control the growth of unwanted plants or parts of plants.
  • PMEM

    Monitoring of the effects of a new product (e.g. a GM plant) following its release onto the market. This may reveal adverse effects which were not predicted in the risk assessment conducted prior to market release. It stands for post-market environmental monitoring.
  • point of departure

    The point on a dose–response curve established from experimental data used to derive a safe level.
  • population

    Community of humans, animals or plants from the same species.
  • population reference intake

    The intake of a nutrient that is likely to meet the needs of almost all healthy people in a population.
  • population threshold

    A level set within a population to indicate when a significant change in risk occurs; for example, the point at which a certain number of people has been exposed to a chemical.
  • post-market environmental monitoring of GM plants

    Monitoring of the effects of a new product (e.g. a GM plant) following its release onto the market. This may reveal adverse effects which were not predicted in the risk assessment conducted prior to market release.
  • potency

    A measure of the capacity of a chemical substance to exert an effect, described in terms of the relationship between the dose used and the magnitude of the resulting effect.
  • PPP

    A plant protection product (PPP) is used to protect, preserve or influence the growth of desirable plants or to destroy or control the growth of unwanted plants or parts of plants.
  • prevalence

    The proportion of a population found to have a condition.
  • PRI

    The intake of a nutrient that is likely to meet the needs of almost all healthy people in a population. It stands for population reference intake.
  • prion

    An infectious agent, prions are abnormal proteins that can be transferred between species attacking cellular proteins found mostly in the brain.
  • probability

    The likelihood that a particular event will occur or that a measured value will fall within a particular range.
  • problem formulation

    The process of defining the specific problem being addressed in, for example, an environmental risk assessment. It involves articulating a question and defining how it may be answered (e.g. by identifying the endpoints to be measured).
  • processing aid

    A substance which is added during food processing to confer particular characteristics; for example, yeast added to bread.
  • protected crop

    Crops grown in greenhouses or cultivations grown under cover (e.g. in polytunnels).
  • protein

    A type of molecule composed of complex strings of amino acids (protein building blocks).
  • proteomics

    One of the family of so-called 'omics methods: an approach to the study of proteins whereby the entire complement of proteins in a given sample (of tissue, cells or a biological fluid such as blood) is analysed simultaneously. 
  • QPS

    The qualified presumption of safety (QPS) is a safety assessment procedure for microbes used in the food chain. QPS uses existing knowledge about the safety of specific microbes to differentiate those which are not of concern (and can be given QPS status) from those which may represent a risk and should be subject to a full safety assessment.
  • QSAR

    The quantitative/qualitative structure activity relationships (QSAR) are a set of methods by which the effects of different compounds are related to their molecular structures. It allows the likely adverse or beneficial effects of a particular chemical to be predicted by comparing it with others which have similar structures.
  • qualified presumption of safety

    A safety assessment procedure for microbes used in the food chain. QPS uses existing knowledge about the safety of specific microbes to differentiate those which are not of concern (and can be given QPS status) from those which may represent a risk and should be subject to a full safety assessment.
  • quantitative/qualitative structure activity relationships

    A set of methods by which the effects of different compounds are related to their molecular structures. It allows the likely adverse or beneficial effects of a particular chemical to be predicted by comparing it with others which have similar structures.
  • ready-to-eat food

    Food intended by the producer for direct consumption without the need for cooking or other processing.
  • recycled plastics

    New plastic goods or materials that have been made from recycled plastic waste.
  • replacement, reduction and refinement (3Rs)

    An internationally accepted approach to reduce the use of animals in research by, wherever possible, requiring studies to use alternative models and/or making refinements to the methods to minimise any distress when animals are used.

  • response addition

    An approach to the risk assessment of mixtures of substances in which responses to each of the individual components are determined and added together in order to predict the response to the mixture as a whole. This approach is only valid if the individual components do not interact with each other, i.e. their effects are completely independent.
  • risk assessment

     A specialised field of applied science that involves reviewing scientific data and studies in order to evaluate risks associated with certain hazards. It involves four steps: hazard identification, hazard characterisation, exposure assessment and risk characterisation.
  • risk characterisation

    The final stage of risk assessment, in which the likelihood that a particular substance will cause harm is calculated in the light of the nature of the hazard and the extent to which people, animals, plants and/or the environment are exposed to it.
  • risk management

    The management of risks which have been identified by risk assessment. It includes the planning, implementation and evaluation of any resulting actions taken to protect consumers, animals and the environment.
  • risk ranking

    A method for prioritising risks according to their likelihood and severity.
  • risk-benefit analysis

    A method for weighing up the likely risks (in terms of the incidence and severity) associated with exposure to a substance versus the likely benefits.
  • RNA

    A type of nucleic acid found in the body, similar to DNA but single stranded. The best known function of RNA (ribonucleic acid) is transmitting instructions from DNA to the cellular machinery responsible for making proteins. 
  • RNA interference

    The blocking of normal gene activities by RNA molecules. This is a natural process but can also be harnessed by biologists as a way of researching how genes work in the body.
  • RNAi

    The blocking of normal gene activities by RNA molecules. This is a natural process but can also be harnessed by biologists as a way of researching how genes work in the body.
  • safety/ uncertainty factor, also known as assessment factor

    Pertaining to a substance, it is a factor used by risk assessors to derive a reference dose that is considered safe or below which an adverse effect is unlikely to occur. The value of the safety factor depends on the toxic effect, the size and type of the population to be protected and the quality of the (eco)toxicological and exposure data available.
  • sampling plan

    A systematic way of planning the number and type of samples required for an investigation.
  • scientific opinion

    Opinions include risk assessments on general scientific issues, evaluations of an application for the authorisation of a product, substance or claim, or an evaluation of a risk assessment.
  • scientific peer-review

    Evaluation of scientific, academic, or professional work by others working in the same field.
  • screening method

    A first step method to establish the presence of a substance in a population for the purposes of estimating risk. Food intake is combined with likely chemical concentration to create an estimate of chemical exposure.
  • SDD

    Species sensitivity distribution (SDD) is a model of the variation in sensitivity of a species to a particular source of harm (e.g. drought, pest invasion or chemical exposure).
  • self-task

    The process whereby, during the course of its regular work, EFSA identifies an issue worthy of further consideration.
  • soil degradation

    A change in soil quality which adversely affects its ability to nourish or support the ecosystem.
  • soil-less cultivation

    The cultivation of plants using a nutrient solution instead of soil; also called hydroponics.
  • species

    A subdivision of the genus, a species is a group of closely related and similar-looking organisms; for example, in the case of Homo sapiens (humans), the second part of the name (sapiens) represents the species.
  • species sensitivity distribution

    A model of the variation in sensitivity of a species to a particular source of harm (e.g. drought, pest invasion or chemical exposure).
  • specific protection goals for ERA for pesticides

    The specific goals of an environmental risk assessment in terms of what to protect, where to protect it, over what time period and with what degree of certainty. 
  • stacked GM event

    The creation of a genetically modified organism (GMO) with more than one genetic modification. This can be done by (a) cross-breeding two GMOs with each having one or more pre-existing modifications (b) carrying out a second genetic modification in an existing GMO or (c) introducing multiple genes or traits at once.
  • standard sample description for food and feed

    Specifications aimed at harmonising the collection of samples from Member States for the analysis of harmful or beneficial substances in food, feed and water.
  • statistical significance

    A measure of the likelihood that  a result occurred based on statistics.
  • steps of risk assessment

    A scientifically-based process consisting of four steps: hazard identification, hazard characterisation, exposure assessment and risk characterisation.
  • strain

    A subtype of a microbe defined by its genetic make-up; for example, in the case of Escherichia coli O157, the 'O157' part of the name refers to the strain.
  • stressor

    A change in conditions, such as a drought, pest or chemical exposure, which often has negative effects on an organism or population.
  • structural alert

    Parts of organic molecules which are believed to be responsible for adverse effects (e.g. genotoxicity) and can be used to predict the toxicity of similar compounds.
  • sub-population

    An identifiable subdivision of a population; for example, infants.
  • synergistic effect

    An interaction that multiplies  outcomes. The outcome in question may be beneficial or adverse.
  • systemic pesticide

    A pesticide which is distributed throughout the target organism (e.g. insect, rodent or weed) without losing efficacy.
  • TDI

    The tolerable daily intake (TDI) is an estimate of the amount of a substance in food or drinking water which is not added deliberately (e.g contaminants) and which can be consumed over a lifetime without presenting an appreciable risk to health. 
  • threshold

    A dose or exposure below which adverse effects are not detected.
  • threshold of toxicological concern

    A screening tool that provides conservative  exposure limits in the absence of sufficient chemical-specific toxicological data. It is a science-based approach for prioritising chemicals with low-level exposures that require more data over those that can be presumed to present no appreciable human health risk.
  • tiered approach

    A way of organising toxicology assessments to maximise efficiency and minimise the use of animals. It involves a hierarchy (tiers) of tests, starting with those that use existing information or simple biological methods before moving onto tests using cells and eventually live animals only as necessary.
  • tolerable daily intake

    An estimate of the amount of a substance in food or drinking water which is not added deliberately (e.g contaminants) and which can be consumed over a lifetime without presenting an appreciable risk to health. 
  • tolerable upper intake level

    The maximum intake of substances in food, such as nutrients or contaminants, that can be consumed daily over a lifetime without adverse health effects.
  • tolerable weekly intake

    The maximum intake of substances in food, such as nutrients or contaminants, that can be consumed weekly over a lifetime without risking adverse health effects.
  • total diet study

    A study designed to estimate the likely consumption of harmful or beneficial substances in the diet. When undertaking such a study, commonly-consumed foods are purchased from shops in a particular country before being analysed.
  • toxicity

    The potential of a substance to cause harm to a living organism.
  • toxicodynamics

    The process of interaction of chemical substances with the body and the subsequent reactions leading to adverse effects.
  • toxicokinetics

    The study of the processes by which potentially toxic substances are handled in the body. This involves an understanding of the absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion of such substances.
  • toxicological profile

    A summary of the toxic effects of a particular substance, including the levels of exposure at which these effects occur.
  • toxicological reference value

    A value defining the level of a particular substance to which people can safely be exposed over a specified period; for example, the acceptable daily intake (ADI).
  • traceability

    The ability to track the journey of a foodstuff or ingredient through all stages of production, processing and distribution.
  • traditional food

    Traditional food is a subset of novel food. The term relates to food traditionally consumed in countries outside the EU. It includes foods made from plants, microorganisms, fungi, algae and animals (e.g. chia seeds, baobab fruit, insects, water chestnuts).
  • transcriptomics

    One of the family of so-called 'omics methods: an approach to the study of gene expression whereby thousands of RNA molecules in a given sample (of tissue or cells) are analysed simultaneously. 
  • transformation product

    A molecule formed from a particular compound (e.g. a pesticide) as a result of metabolism, chemical reactions or environmental processes.
  • transmissible

    Capable of being passed between individuals in the same species, as well as between different species (e.g. from animals to humans).
  • TTC

    The threshold of toxicological concern (TTC) is a screening tool that provides conservative exposure limits in the absence of sufficient chemical-specific toxicological data. It is a science-based approach for prioritising chemicals with low-level exposures that require more data over those that can be presumed to present no appreciable human health risk.
  • TWI

    The tolerable weekly intake (TWI) is the maximum intake of substances in food, such as nutrients or contaminants, that can be consumed weekly over a lifetime without risking adverse health effects.
  • The time required for 50% of a substance present in an individual, population or ecosystem to break down or be eliminated naturally. The half-life, or t½, is often used to describe the disappearance of potentially harmful substances such as chemical toxins.
  • uncertainty

    A lack of full knowledge about a situation in, for example, risk assessment. Uncertainty can be reduced by carrying out more research.
  • uncertainty analysis

    A method of identifying the sources of uncertainty in a risk assessment calculation and estimating their size and direction so that errors can be taken into account.
  • upper bound estimate

    A way of estimating exposure to a particular compound from analytical data by assigning the lowest value which can be detected (or quantitated) to all samples with levels below this value. For a toxic chemical this gives the most pessimistic estimate of exposure (i.e. the real level of exposure will always be below the upper bound estimate).
  • variability

    Natural variations observed between members of a population, or observed over time or in different geographical locations; for example, individual variations in susceptibility to a particular toxic chemical. 
  • vector

    A carrier of a disease-causing agent from an infected individual to a non-infected individual or its food or environment; for example, mosquitoes carrying malaria parasites.
  • virulence

    The degree or ability of a disease-causing organism (e.g. a bacterium, virus or parasite) to cause disease.
  • vitamin

    Dietary substance needed in very small amounts to support normal growth and maintenance of health in humans and animals. Most vitamins are 'essential' as they are not made within the body.
  • vulnerable group

    Group of people needing specific consideration when assessing the nutritional needs or health effects of substances; for example, pregnant women, infants and people exposed to higher doses of substances through their environment.
  • weight of evidence

    A process in which all of the evidence relating to a decision is evaluated based on its strength and quality.
  • whole genome sequencing

    Visualisation of the entire genetic makeup of a particular organism.
  • zoonotic

    A term given to diseases and infections that can be transmitted between animals and humans.