In Europe, strict requirements apply to food safety. Food safety standards are determined at international level. To ensure food safety, standards are set for the maximum permitted concentration of toxic substances in products. However, social and economic consequences that also affect food safety standards are not always taken into account in the same way. RIVM has therefore developed a framework to look broader than just the harmful effects of substances. Transparency and standardisation in decision-making are key for setting food safety standards.
Food should contain as few hazardous substances as possible. Health safety standards are determined to protect our health. This is done mainly at an international level, whereby a scientific analysis assesses the harmful effects of substances in food. However, factors other than hazardous properties can also influence the level of the food safety standards. One such example is the societal concern which follows from uncertainties in the scientific assessment. A large economic impact of the established food safety standards can also be expected, for example, in the form of higher prices. These factors are included in the decision-making process, but this is not yet done in a standardised and transparent manner.
RIVM has developed a framework Socio-Economic Assessment of regulatory measures on Toxic Substances in food: SEATS, to broaden the decision-making process in regard to food safety standards by including criteria other than just the hazardous properties of substances. SEATS combines a cost-benefit analysis with societal concerns as for example risk perception, uncertainty and trust. SEATS was tested in two case studies (lead and pesticides) in which the impact of lowering the food safety standard was investigated. The cases showed that the methodology of the SEATSframework works well for unambiguous and transparent determination of food safety standards. The SEATS framework has been developed within RIVM's Strategic Programme (SPR), which was set up for research, innovation and knowledge development. SPR focuses on topics that could have an impact on our future health and environment, and thus deserve extra attention.