In 2012 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) launched its Science Strategy 2012-2016. On 7-8 November that year, more than 600 of the world’s leading food safety experts took part in a high-level scientific conference organised by EFSA to mark its tenth anniversary. Since then, many objectives of the Strategy and recommendations of the 2012 Conference have been implemented.
Meanwhile, assessment science and the biological sciences, both of which underpin assessment for policy decisions, have continued to evolve apace. This means that the collective knowledge about biological mechanisms and their possible impact on improvement or impairment of health continues to increase rapidly. Furthermore, assessment science, including the use and re-use of evidence, the nature of expertise and the appropriate assessment methods, will all continue to change, along with the development of open assessment approaches. This will lead to a progressive rethink of how science in the 21st century underpins decision-making to improve society and the world we live in.
These rapid evolutions are of relevance not only to EFSA but also to other risk assessment organisations in Europe and beyond. In 2015, the Italian city of Milan hosted World Expo 2015 from May to October. This is a prestigious worldwide event which takes place once every five years. As its theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” was related to EFSA’s remit, the Authority decided to hold a three-day Scientific Conference in October 2015 in Milan.
The objectives of this conference was to take stock of the challenges and opportunities for risk assessment to contribute to policy development and assessment in the sphere of food safety.
EFSA organised this event in liaison with national organisations, EU agencies, the European Commission and international risk assessment bodies. An international Advisory Committee has guided EFSA on the proposed programme.
Objectives of the conference
Assessment science was the main theme of the conference, with EFSA aiming to attract an audience of 1.000 participants. Hence, scientists working in risk assessment organisations were invited to attend. As the purpose of assessment is policy development and evaluation, risk managers and risk communicators were invited as well. Another objective of the conference was to broaden the debate beyond food safety risk assessment per se. Therefore scientists working in a domain or having an interest in the field of science-based assessment were invited to participate. Young scientists were particularly encouraged to join.
The conference programme started with a series of keynote lectures reflecting on developments affecting the role and the conduct of assessment science. These were then further developed in a set of parallel sessions focussing on key aspects of assessment, i.e. The data, methods, expertise and the openness of the assessment process – with the latter being spread over two successive sessions. The fifth was a session on nutrition, reflecting the challenge to move beyond an assessment of single chemicals to one of multiple chemicals that are present in food.
A second series of keynote lectures covered areas of biology where our knowledge is growing rapidly, including the role of gut flora, neural science, reproductive endocrinology and epigenetics. This was followed by five further parallel sessions covering the major assessment domains that EFSA and other agencies are involved in: microbiological and chemical assessments for human health, animal and plant health, environmental health, in addition to the second part of the openness of the assessment process.
Each breakout session had two co-chairs supported by a rapporteur. One co-chair will join the panel that will lead the concluding discussion at the end of the meeting.
Thematic poster sessions was organised to allow scientists to actively contribute to the conference by showcasing their work. Participation of young scientists was strongly encouraged.
Abstracts will be available as hard copies at the conference. The outcome of the conference, along with keynote lectures, will be published after the meeting in a Special Issue of the EFSA Journal.