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Quality of Life - Integrated Benefit and Risk Analysis Web-based Tool for Assessing Food Safety and Health Benefits

Final Report Summary - QALIBRA (Quality of life - Integrated benefit and risk analysis web-based tool for assessing food safety and health benefits)

The strategic goals of the QALIBRA project were to develop a suite of quantitative methods for assessing and integrating beneficial and adverse effects of foods and to apply them to selected food groups. To maximise dissemination and uptake of the project outputs the methods were implemented as web-enabled software.

When QALIBRA started approaches for benefit risk analysis with respect to food safety were at an early stage of development. At this point in time information on risks and benefits of food was usually presented separately or integrated only in a qualitative way. The few studies that had quantified net health impacts had been specific to particular problems and had not attempted to quantify the uncertainties affecting risks and benefits. Finally, only limited attention had so far been given to approaches for communicating net health impacts, or to approaches for communicating uncertainty.

During QALIBRA an overall framework for benefit risk analysis, using common currencies such as disability adjusted life years (DALYs) to quantify the balance of risk and benefit and providing the option to quantify uncertainty in every element of the calculation, was developed. The proposed web tool was equipped with a flexible interface to accept input from any form of dose response model. Evaluation of existing models and functions for integrating and valuing health impacts, selecting those most relevant to food safety questions and refining them for use in the general framework, were included in the analysis. Moreover, suitable methods for characterising the main types of uncertainty affecting food benefit risk assessments and incorporating them in the framework were identified. The information needs and reactions of technical users were also investigated, and solutions for effective communication strategies were developed.

The QALIBRA methods and approaches were implemented as web-based software for assessing and communicating net health impacts. Detailed testing with end users was conducted so as to refine the software in response to these tests and make it as user friendly as possible. Workshops with participants representing food authorities, food industry, public health professionals and academia proved to be very useful in this direction. The extensive testing and evaluation of the QALIBRA methodology and software included detailed case studies, taking into account seafood, with emphasis on oily fish, and functional food. Moreover, the proposal helped to quantify net health benefits on a population level for different scenarios of margarine enriched with phytosterolesters. These case studies helped to develop the overall framework and web-based software, but had to be further refined in future projects.

QALIBRA established collaborations with other European research initiatives under the same call and a common plan for dissemination was formulated. The developed methodology and tools were also introduced to other projects and groups working with benefit risk assessments. The produced software was primarily designed for risk assessors, working for regulatory authorities or in the food industry or in consultancy businesses, who needed to consider the potential risks and benefits to health when setting food policy, developing a new food product, or advising consumers on dietary choices. Thus, the proposals had great exploitation potential, but needed yet to prove themselves in real life decision making and verify that they were able to add value to traditional assessments.

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