The safety of our food supply is a shared responsibility, from farm to fork, of the food producing industry, regulatory authorities and consumers. As part of this safety assurance it is essential to assess the potential risks posed by food and food ingredients. Consequently, the risk assessment process has to be based on sound scientific data and performed at internationally agreed standards in a transparent manner. The traditional risk assessment process applied successfully to food additives relies on toxicology testing in animals at intake levels many times higher than is likely in humans. Extrapolation of the data to determine the safe level for man is performed by employing safety (or uncertainty) factors. Such an approach does not assess quantitatively the relationship between exposure and adverse health effects and cannot effectively deal with novel foods and macro-ingredients with high levels of intake in the human diet. Therefore, new and harmonised approaches are needed which can also take account of the latest scientific advances and to generate suitable possible solutions also to the various on-going current activities in different international working groups and scientific committees such as the EC, Scientific Steering of the European Commission in the Consumer Protection Directorate General.
The project will focus on the following objectives:
- To carry out a detailed state-of-the-art appraisal of all stages involved in risk assessment and seek to integrate these in the most relevant manner for assessing risk using a matrix approach;
- to explore means of improving the principles applied to, and scientific basis of, risk assessment with respect to natural toxicants, food additives and contaminants in the food chain, including possible interactions between individual chemicals and effects of the food matrix;
- to identify gaps in knowledge that might lead to differences in interpretation of toxicological and exposure data, and the research need to reduce these;
- to determine the nature and level of testing needed for safety evaluation relevant to the nature of the chemical, level of use/occurrence in the diet and human exposure (including novel foods and processes, nutritional supplements);
- to add a European contribution to international initiatives to harmonise principles, terminology and methodology for risk assessment;
- to contribute towards a consensus on risk assessment issues that is scientifically transparent and justifiable;
- to assist risk managers in developing appropriate, defensible food standards that adequately protect the safety of the consumer whilst allowing for innovation in food production and processing.
Early 2000, the Project Steering Committee established the First Plenary Meeting programme. In April 2000, the first Plenary Meeting was held to gather all participants in the project to set up a European multidisciplinary network. The project is addressed by Individual Theme Groups (ITGs) on 'In-vitro Toxicology' (A), 'Animal based Toxicology' (B), 'Mathematical Modelling' (C), 'Biologically based modelling' (D), 'Intake Assessment' (E) and 'Epidemiology' (F). The main objectives of the first Plenary meeting were (i) to review and agree on a proposed work programme, including scientific issues to be addressed, (ii) agree on the terms of reference and responsibilities of the ITGs and (iii) agree on the final composition of the ITGs including respective chairmen. From July 2000 to January 2001, ITG A-F had 2 to 3 meetings to draft ITG reports. These reports will be reviewed by the Project Steering committee before being reviewed by the Second Plenary meeting in June 2001.