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'Risk Assessment Policy' - a Critical Innovation for both Scientific and Democratic Legitimacy

Professor Erik Millstone
University of Sussex

Date: 9 February 2010
Time: 1:00pm - 2:30pm
Venue: CARR Seminar Room, G305

For several decades, policy analysts and sociologists of science have been arguing that, in policy contexts, scientific representations of risks (and benefits) are invariably framed by prior assumptions about what counts as a risk, what should count as relevant evidence, and about how evidence and uncertainties should be interpreted. Those assumptions are moreover non-scientific, normative and socially-contestable. In the early years of this decade the Codex Alimentarius Commission that, under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation, sets base-line standards for internationally traded food and agricultural commodities, introduced a key innovation - the concept of 'risk assessment policy', which constitutes the first official acknowledgement of the fact that scientific risk assessments are framed by such prior policy considerations. Moreover, in August 2007, all member states of Codex, (i.e. all members of the United Nations) acknowledged that all individual jurisdictions should provide their risk assessors with explicit risk assessment policy guidelines. The implications of that innovation, and progress towards the implementation of those provisions, will be outlined and critically assessed.

About the speaker
Erik Millstone is a Professor of Science Policy at the University of Sussex, leader of the Environment and Energy group at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) and Director of Studies for the MSc programme in Public Policies for Science, Technology and Innovation. His first degree was in Physics; he then gained three post-graduate degrees in Philosophy. Since 1974 he has been researching into the causes, consequences and regulation of technological change in the food industry. From 2004 to 2007 he lead a comparative study of the relationships between science and food safety policy-making, looking at the global Codex-based regime, as well as the UK, USA, Germany, Japan and Argentina.

Recent publications include: The Atlas of Food: who eats what, where and why, E Millstone and T Lang (eds.), Earthscan London and University of California Press, Berkeley; Risk-assessment policies: differences across jurisdictions, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, Seville, Spain, EUR Number: 23259 EN, April 2008, available online|; 'Risking regulatory capture at the UK's Food Standards Agency?', The Lancet, Vol 372, 12 July 2008, pp. 93-94; 'Can food safety policy-making be both scientifically and democratically legitimated? If so, how?', Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 2007, Vol. 20, pp. 483-508; 'Mad Cow Disease - Painting Policy-Making into a Corner' with P van Zwanenberg, Journal of Risk Research, Vol 10, No 5, July 2007, pp 661- 691.