Food for thought - Communicating food-related risks

In the last few years, a continuous series of food alerts have caught the attention of the media and the public in Europe. First, eggs and pork contaminated with dioxins; then, "mad cow" disease, while, all along in the background, a battle against genetically modified plants has been in progress. These food alerts have had complex repercussions on the perception of risks associated with food production. Experts have often been divided over these issues, and the uncertainty of scientific data has been indicated on more than one occasion as one of the factors that influence risk perception. However, the most important factor seems to be undoubtedly the way in which the risk has been communicated (or not communicated) to the public. Therefore, risk communication analysis offers an excellent opportunity to understand the profound changes that are taking place in relations among the scientific community, mass media and other members of civil society now that they are fully aware that scientific and technological innovation, the real driving force of modern industrial society, is a source of development but also a source of risks which are not always acceptable. Within this different context, a debate open to all interested parties appears to have become a dire necessity for the "risk society", especially as far as food is concerned because food has extremely important psychological, ethical and cultural values.