Risks and benefits are clarified by food risk assessment


<div>The Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira has organized a risk assessment seminar on the food safety industry ”Emerging challenges in Risk Assessment” to be held today, 30.11.2006. Evira is also hosting a meeting of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) today, and the risk assessment seminar is to be held in conjunction with this meeting. </div>

At the seminar, risk assessment experts discuss food safety using for example the following practical cases.

Food supplements and health risks – a Danish model for assessment of the total intake
Dr Salka E. Rasmussen from the Danish Institute for Food and Veterinary Research (DFVR) is lecturing on the subject ”A safe strategy for addition of vitamins and minerals to foods”. The addition of vitamins and minerals to foodstuffs should not cause health risks to any consumer groups. DFVR has developed a model for ensuring this. International expert groups have set upper limits for the safe consumption of nutrients, for example vitamins. As research information about the intake of nutrients both for foodstuffs and food supplements is also available, we can assess using the model to what degree different nutrients can be safely used to supplement the food, for example the addition of vitamins. Dr Rasmussen highlights that the advantage with the model is that it also takes into consideration vitamins and minerals from food supplements (pills, tablets). According to research, about half of the population and two thirds of the children in Denmark use food supplements regularly. The model also takes into consideration the intake of different nutrients in different age groups (for example children) and the sensitivity to the harmful effects of certain nutrients.

The advantages and disadvantages are to be in balance, for example eating recommendations for fish
Professor emeritus Jouko Tuomisto from the National Public Health Institute will lecture on the subject ”Scylla or charybdis – navigating between risks and benefits?” The subject of the lecture is risk assessment of chemicals (advantages versus disadvantages), using the example of dioxin and recommendations for fish consumption. Dioxins are an example of harmful contaminants in fish. In Finland, the population’s largest source of dioxin is found in fish, especially fish from the Baltic. This is why it is necessary to make an assessment of what the risk is to the population in consuming the fish. At the same time, however, it is necessary to make sure that a drop in the consumption of fish does not lead to other problems, as research amongst large groups of population has shown that the consumption of fish lowers the death rate from heart disease by up to one third and the total death rate by about 20 per cent.

It is essential to have the advantages and disadvantages in balance. We are aiming at creating tools for this through research. A practical example has been to assess the recommendations by an American team. The limits to fish consumption recommended by the Americans would, according to the assessment of Tuomisto’s team, decrease the number of cancer cases in the whole of Europe by a maximum of 50 out of Europe's population of 400 million inhabitants (the number of cancer cases is more than one million in all). At the same time the consumption of fish can be estimated to have prevented about 30 000 deaths from heart disease. Because of this, it might be detrimental to the population’s health to consider only the disadvantages.

Finland’s low occurrence of salmonella is the result of over 40 years of research
Riitta Maijala, DVM, Head of the Animal Health and Welfare Unit at the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira lectures on the subject ”Science and risk management in controlling salmonella”. Maijala discusses how the research aimed at controlling the salmonella risk started in Finland. By way of long-term research, follow-up and preventative work covering the whole chain, the situation with the occurrence of salmonella has come to be very good in Finland.

Salmonella has been fought in Finland for about 40 years, for example in feed production. There has been a salmonella supervisory program in force for ten years in Finland. The objective of the program is that there will be less than one per cent salmonella contamination in beef, pork, poultry and egg production. Different ways of controlling the salmonella risk have been found through research. An example of this is the so-called Nurmi method by which salmonella contaminations have been clearly reduced. The Nurmi method is used widely in broiler production in various countries.

According to the requirements of the national salmonella programme, which was started in 1995, the whole batch of broilers is to be heated up, if salmonella is found in it. The procedure is expensive and by way of risk assessment and analysis of medical expenses the cost benefit from this procedure has been calculated. The result was that even one life saved covers the expenses for this procedure and for the rest of the control of salmonella in the broiler chain. Based on the risk assessment model it has also been estimated, that if 30 % of the egg consumption was replaced with eggs that contain salmonella at the same level as it is in many member countries of the European Community (0.06 – 1 %), the risk of the Finnish consumers being contaminated with salmonella through eggs would be multiplied by 70 – 1000 times.

In risk assessment the risks and advantages and the type of danger are determined
Evira has a risk assessment unit, the aim of which is to improve animal and plant health and to improve the safety of foodstuffs, feeds and plant protection products by risk assessment based on scientific research.

Risk assessment gives new information which can be utilized at international, national and local level, for example for making contingency plans in case of occurrences of animal diseases, or when Finland seeks special status or shows the importance of the special status regarding any specific procedure. The information gained from risk assessments also helps to develop ways of improving resistance to diseases.


For more information, please contact:
Riitta Maijala, DVM, Head of the Animal Health and Welfare Unit, tel. +358 2077 24210
Dr Salka Rasmussen, Department of Toxicology and Risk Assessment, Danish Institute for Food and Veterinary Research, tel. +45 7234 7548, sera@dfvf.dk
Professor Kirsti Savela, Head of the Risk Assessment Unit, Evira, tel. +358 2077 24020
Professor emeritus Jouko Tuomisto, National Public Health Institute, tel. +358 40 586 6761, firstname.surname@ktl.fi
The format of Evira’s e-mail addresses is: firstname.surname@evira.fi


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