In France food safety is organised within a larger system of ‘health security’ of products designed for human consumption, which permits the assessment of food and feed issues in the overall context of public health governance. France’s food safety regulatory system grows out of a traditionally strong Risk Management system and, at the same time, integrates modern assessment science and techniques.
In the 1980s, France experienced important and tragic public health events, including the contamination of blood transfusion supplies with the AIDS virus. These events revealed the need to separate Risk Assessment and Risk Management practices, to isolate these from commercial pressures, and to improve traceability. Health security agencies were therefore created in the early 1990s. The Mad Cow crisis came then in 1996 to confirm the value of such reorganisation, rather than as a triggering factor. More agencies were created over several years by the 1998 Public Health Code, including the food safety assessment agency AFSSA: Agence française de sécurité sanitaire des aliments.
France has improved food safety and regained stakeholder and public confidence. Comparative statistics indicate clearly that food safety performance has improved with regards to microbial and toxicological contamination issues.
The institutional separation of Risk Assessment and Risk Management tasks was welcomed but it is still problematic. A high level of co-operation and co-ordination are crucial in order to make the Risk Analysis process work.A defined Risk Evaluation function is absent from the present food safety system. This results in a lack of clarity. Risk managers believe that risk assessors sometimes trespass into the evaluation field, when the scientific assessment opinion is delivered along with strong management recommendations. At the same time, when decision-makers take socio-economic and political factors into account, it is not in a systematic way. Transparency and method need to be introduced into evaluation.
Source: Claire Mays, Mathieu Jahnich and Marc Poumadère in Ellen Vos and Frank Wendler, “Food Safety Regulation in Europe: A Comparative Institutional Analysis”, Intersentia, 2006.