Scientists and the Regulation of Risk

Scientists and the Regulation of Risk

Standardising Control

David Demortain

Risks are increasingly regulated by international standards, and scientists play a key role in standardisation. This fascinating book exposes the action of ‘invisible colleges’ of scientists – loose groups of prominent scientific experts who combine practical experience of risk and control with advisory responsibility – in the formulation of international standards.

Chapter 6: The Value of Abstraction: Food Safety Scientists and the Invention of Post-market Monitoring

David Demortain

Subjects: politics and public policy, public policy, regulation and governance


In 2008, a group of academic and industry food scientists published a review paper in Food and Chemical Toxicology, an academic journal dedicated to toxicity testing and risk assessment of chemicals found in food, titled ‘The application of post-market monitoring to novel foods’ (Hepburn et al., 2008; the ‘FCT paper’ in the remainder of the chapter). The paper is a little more than an academic article. It was written by a group of scientists gathered together by the European branch of the International Life Science Institute (ILSI), an industry-funded scientific foundation. It gives the food industry long-awaited guidance on monitoring the risks of innovative food products in the market. Trivial as it may seem, agreeing on the elaboration, content and name of a guideline for the ‘post-market monitoring’ (PMM) of novel foods was far from a foregone conclusion. It took four years of intermittent work to write and publish this guidance, but it really took 25 years for its elaboration to be decided and its content to stabilise, following initial industry experiments on monitoring of the consumption and side-effects of novel foods. There are cultural and political hurdles to creating such overarching regulatory instruments for foods. Novelty in human diet is not easy to measure. Diets are not systematically monitored, or not at the scale of ingredients and substances that compose foodstuffs. Any substance potentially has been consumed at some point in history or in one part of the world before its industrial use in food production began. It is...

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