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Terminology in Risk Assessments used by the Scientific Panels and Scientific Committee of EFSA

on the Wiley Online Library


The present document has been produced and adopted by the bodies identified above as authors. In accordance with Article 36 of Regulation (EC) No 178/2002, this task has been carried out exclusively by the authors in the context of a grant agreement between the European Food Safety Authority and the authors. The present document is published complying with the transparency principle to which the European Food Safety Authority is subject. It may not be considered as an output adopted by EFSA. EFSA reserves its rights, view and position as regards the issues addressed and the conclusions reached in the present document, without prejudice to the rights of the authors.


Clarity of scientific advice is vital if public authorities are to make the best risk management decisions and if these are to be understood and widely supported by stakeholders, consumers and industry alike. It is therefore essential that the opinions of the Scientific Panels and of the Scientific Committee of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) explain clearly the nature of the risks, their possible impact on humans, animals, and the environment, and the uncertainty in available scientific information.

The need for a harmonisation of terms and expressions used in scientific opinions has been recognised as a key element as a part of good risk assessment practices. Within EFSA, the Scientific Committee has discussed the need for harmonised terminology in Risk Assessment together with the Scientific Panels. A need for a review of the terminology used in abstract, summary and concluding sections of opinions issued by Scientific Panels and the Scientific Committee of EFSA and for recommendations to improved approaches to expressing risk and uncertainty in a harmonised way has been identified. A review of the report “Comparative review of risk terminology” (November 2007) was noted as a good starting point for this work.

EFSA commissioned FERA (Food Environmental Research Agency) to perform a comparative review of terms of expression of benefit, efficacy, risk and/or uncertainties in concluding and summary sections of 219 opinions issued by the Scientific Committee and Panels of EFSA published between 2008 and the beginning of 2010. The author of this report identified a number of quantitative or qualitative descriptors employed to describe or characterise benefit, or efficacy, or risk and/or uncertainties. In order to facilitate the analysis of these findings a database was constructed in which all identified descriptors were recorded.

The great majority of the recorded descriptors (3557/3888) were qualitative, and a large number of the most commonly employed descriptors appeared to be specific to each scientific body of EFSA. The small number of quantitative descriptors identified however, does not imply that quantitative measures were absent from the assessments included in our research.

The research indicated that only in 161/3888 qualitative descriptors uncertainty was perceived to have been conveyed intentionally, and that the terms “uncertain”/“uncertainty” were cited directly only in 212/3888. Additionally, clearly defined sections dedicated to a type of uncertainty analysis were included only in a minority of the documents reviewed (30/219). However, performing a variability and/or uncertainty analysis is often at the heart of addressing issues like the ones assessed in the documents we reviewed.

The present report includes recommendations about possible ways of improving the expression and communication of risk and/or uncertainties within the scope of published opinions by the Scientific Committee and Panels of EFSA.

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