Abstract of Meeting Paper

Society for Risk Analysis 2000 Annual Meeting

Reality in Risk Assessment. T. W. Orme, Consultant Services in Biotechnology

Much has been said about the distinction between risk assessment and risk management. Hypothetical risk can be assessed, but reality is what we manage. How much time should be devoted to hypothetical risk assessment is a question of resource allocation. For instance, it is unfortunate that more attention is focused now on the potential creation of superweeds by agricultural biotechnology than on the spread of invasive weeds known to be major agricultural threats. It is unfortunate that the myth of pesticides in children’s food has become the centerpiece of EPA carcinogen policy while the proven risk factors - obesity and lack of exercise in children - are disregarded as life style factors over which we have no control. Risk assessment must start with reality. The Global Burden of Disease, CDC Morbidity and Mortality Statistics, documented descriptions of adverse effects provide better materials for risk assessment than untested ideas. The Mead Report from CDC suggests that food in the United States causes 76 million subclinical illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5000 deaths each year. Opportunities abound to understand microbial risk better and to change behavior in ways that promote health. We do a better service by analyzing this reality than by contemplating imaginary problems associated with genetically modified food.

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