Stakeholders get to grips with risk perception

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Related tags: European union, European commission

Public perception of risk - notably with regards to genetically
modified foods - is the focus of a high-profile conference to take
place in Brussels next week. Senior figures from the worlds of
politics, science and food will explore how perception is formed,
days before the an EU debate that could lift a five-year ban on new
GMO crops and foods.

Risk perception linked to food is of utmost sensitivity in Europe as the consumer remains wary of figures forged in the media and from the mouth of politicians and bureaucrats.

Speaking ahead of the conference on 4-5 December, David Byrne European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection highlighted the key aim - how the powers that be can relay risk without appearing alarmist.

"When I speak about food safety or public health issues it is often a real struggle to put the risks in context to give 'the facts' without sounding either alarmist or complacent. Even when the politicians and experts are sure they have given the facts in a balanced way, public and media reaction can still take them by surprise."

Germany's minister for consumer protection, food and agriculture Renate Künast, Spanish minister for agriculture, fisheries and food Miguel Arias Cañete and David Byrne are keynote speakers at the Commission-organised event that expects to gather 600 delegates together from all over Europe.

The outcome of the conference might come in use for next week when a specialist EU committee will discuss European Commission plans to authorise imports of a GM sweetcorn, Bt-11 maize, manufactured by Switzerland's Syngenta, one of the world's largest agrochemicals firm.

If authorised, the move would effectively lift a five-year European ban on new GMO crops and foods, to the delight of the US that has long lobbied for Europe to accept GM crops and to heavy protestations from environmental and consumer groups.

This committee, comprising officials from the EU's 15 member states, will meet on 8 December. At the Commission conference Dr Simon Barber from Europe's pro-biotechnology body EuropBio will provide the biotech view of risk perception.

Entitled 'Risk Perception: Science, Public Debate and Policy Making,' the programme also includes international perspectives from Dr Angelika Tritscher of the World Health Organisation and Anne Sergeant of the US Environmental Protection Agency as well as EU regulators and experts such as Geoffery Podger of the European Food Safety Authority, Dirk Sterckx MEP and Jean Russotto of law firm Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly.

Views from food producers and retailers' will come from Peter Gaemelke of CopaCocega and Gordon Maddan of ASDA Stores.

Players in the food industry - from small to large - can not afford to ignore the subject of risk perception. As an increasing number of rules fall on the shoulders of the industry - not least traceability from farm to fork - there is simply little room to manoeuvre in the domain of risk perception. All stakeholders have an interest to follow the outcome of this highy charged Commission conference.

Related topics: Cereals and bakery preparations

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