Codex Alimentarius is science based complied with consultation of experts and scientists who have contributed to it in a big way. It is their contributions that have been used to make the Codex texts so that standards remain verifiable even after they are scrutinised scientifically. Risk analysis was developed in the Codex Alimentarius Commission during the 1990s. It is now considered one of the key decision making elements when developing any Codex standards. In 1995 with the adoption of the World Trade Organization Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, risk analysis became even more important. It is because of the scientific basis of Codex standards that the World Trade organisation (WTO) uses Codex standards as an international benchmark for food safety standards.
What exactly is Risk Analysis?
Risk analysis is what provides food regulators with information and evidence that allows them to make the right decision about food safety and consumer health. The FAO and WHO have published a guide which shows how risk analysis is to be applied and this guide is used by food regulators worldwide to assist them. Through risk analysis an estimate can be made about the food hazards that affect human health. Estimates help to prevent the hazards by taking appropriate control measures and these control measures are then communicated to all parties concerned.
Hazard is a biological, chemical or physical agent in, or condition of, food with the potential to cause an adverse health effect.
Risk is a function of the probability of an adverse health effect and the severity of that effect, consequential to a hazard in food.
Codex risk analysis structure
In the Codex structure risk analysis consists of three components namely
- Risk assessment
- Risk management
- Risk communication
- Risk assessment also consists of a three step scientific process
- hazard identification
- hazard characterization
- exposure assessment and risk characterization
Risk assessment points out the possible negative effects to life and health through exposure to certain hazards in food over a specific period of time. The findings of the risk assessment allow food regulators to decide on how to manage the risk.
- Risk assessment begins with the identification of the hazard to see whether it is biological, chemical or physical that cause adverse health effects in a food or group of foods
- The second step characterises the hazard –its quality or quantity and how it affects health
- The third step is exposure assessment which finds out how the intake of the hazard will affect health
- The final step is risk characterization which makes an estimate of the possibility of occurrence of the hazard in food or groups of food and how severely it will affect a target population.
- Risk management
This process is different from risk assessment as here all parties are consulted and the risk is weighed so that all factors are in place which will be required to protect the health of consumers and for the promotion of fair practices. If required they will chalk out proper prevention and control options. In risk management the problem is defined, the reasons for the risk analysis are pointed out and questions are identified so they can be answered. They may also sometimes consult interested parties to see if there are any alternatives keeping in mind heath and fair practices.
Risk management options can vary and can include
- implementation of regulatory standards as well as
- implementation of non-regulatory options such as quality assurance schemes at the farm level,
- consumer education or packaging for safe handling in the home
Out of these options it becomes difficult to select the most appropriate control measure as besides risk assessment sometimes economic, legal, ethical, environmental, social and political factors also play part. Once the control measures are in place then monitoring and review activities are carried out to see whether the measures that have been selected and implemented are working in achieving the stated goals or are they having some kind of effect that was not intended to happen.
- Risk communication
All information and risk analysis process concerning the risk, risk related factors or any perceived risk are shared with all interested parties like
- risk assessors
- risk managers
- academic community
- other interested parties
The risk assessment findings are shared including why the risk needs to be managed. Risk communication is a powerful tool yet it is underused. In 1998, a Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on risk communication identified the following
as key components of risk communication:
- know the audience
- involve the scientific experts
- establish expertise in communication
- be a credible source of information
- share responsibility
- differentiate between science and value judgement
- assure transparency and put the risk in perspective
As can be seen Codex has a well thought out risk assessment system which is consulted by countries even when they make their own national standards as here risk has been identified scientifically.