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A specific support action to investigate the risk benefit analysis for foods

Final Report Summary - BRAFO (A specific support action to investigate the risk benefit analysis for foods)

As the burden of health costs within society increases due to a longer lifespan, balanced nutrition can play an important role in disease prevention. However, there is considerable disparity in the way benefits and risks are compared for compounds found in food, often relying on subjective judgement. It is therefore vital to develop an effective strategy to enable a holistic analysis of the net health impact of chemicals in food, in a manner analogous to the current assessment of risk.

The aim of BRAFO was to develop a framework to allow for the quantitative comparison of human health risks and benefits of foods and food compounds based on a common scale of measurement. The approach was based on the evaluation of changes in the quality and duration of life using a system that allowed weighting of data quality and severity of the effect. The framework considered how risks and benefits were interrelated. It was intended to develop a sufficiently transparent methodology that would serve as a reference for the harmonisation of the evaluation methods used within the European Union and at a global scale.

The project consortium included representatives from academia, regulatory agencies and the food industry. During the first year of the project methodologies from several disciplines relevant to the evaluation of benefits and risks in food were brought together. The reprocessing of available data to achieve a standard representation of inputs and outputs was required and necessitated the formulation of agreed guidelines that were common to all constituent elements of the project. A guidance document was also produced, describing a tiered approach for performing a benefit and risk assessment of foods. This approach evaluated the benefits and risks of changing from the reference scenario to an alternative, resulting in a statement about which scenario was preferred in terms of net health effects.

The development of the framework was expedited during the second year of the project by its use on a number of selected examples of foodstuffs and food components. The three case study groups worked on applying and adapting the developed methodological approach to undertake a benefit assessment, a risk assessment and a quantitative net health impact assessment on three selected cases, namely:
1. natural foods, which focussed on the consumption of fish and soy;
2. dietary interventions, which comprised as examples the folic acid fortification of flour, the macronutrient replacement and food substitution, the exchange of monosaccharides and disaccharides for low calorie sweeteners and the chlorination of drinking water;
3. heat processing, which focussed on three examples of heat treatment of foods, including processes that involved individual undesired process contaminants and the heat treatment of milk and its products.

The extent to which the BRAFO methodology was broadly applicable across various benefit and risk categories was subsequently determined based on the obtained results. The recommendations were reviewed and discussed and, after their finalisation, were included in a paper and disseminated to the industry, the scientific community and the consumers using various communication pathways.

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