Scientific risk assessments require global collaboration on consumer health protection

The BfR has improved its scientific exchange with various institutions in Japan. During a journey to Tokyo, a delegation led by Vice President Professor Dr. Reiner Wittkowski had the opportunity to discuss matters in depth with their Japanese counterparts. One key point of focus for the consultations was evaluating the risks posed by pesticides and marine biotoxins, i.e. algal toxins in shellfish and fish. Wittkowski: “In light of the increasing globalisation of trade in food products, it is becoming even more important for national institutes to work together and pool their scientific resources.” Japan, for example, has extensive experience with cases of ciguatera fish poisoning. “We Europeans can benefit from this knowledge. In turn, we can offer our long-standing know-how on the non-dietary risk assessment of plant protection products, which is currently being expanded there to include operator exposure.”


The BfR delegation met research scientists from Japan Food Research Laboratories (JFRL), who have spent many years conducting in-depth research into ciguatera fish poisoning. This is a common form of food poisoning that occurs worldwide as a result of ciguatoxins present in certain kinds of predatory fish found in tropical and subtropical fishing grounds. Cases of food poisoning in Germany have also been recorded as a result of imports. The BfR is continuing to expand its methodology for detecting ciguatoxins in fish at the German National Reference Laboratory for the Monitoring of Marine Biotoxins. A partnership with JFRL has now been agreed upon.

The delegation’s itinerary also included a seminar in Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF). MAFF invited the BfR to give a series of presentations on the topic safe use of pesticides, since the German institute played a leading role in the establishment of a harmonised procedure for evaluating operator and worker safety within Europe. This invitation was motivated by recent revisions of Japanese legislation which entered into force in December 2018 that include these additional health-related aspects for assessing pesticide use. The presentation and the ensuing Q&A session offered some key ideas in this new field of risk assessment for Japan.

The BfR delegation was also invited to present its insights into the assessment of mixture toxicity by the Food Safety Commission of Japan (FSCJ). This presentation focused on the outcome of the EuroMix research project, in which the BfR was a major participant. The presentation also covered the contribution of the BfR for the MIXTOX Guidance for the assessment of mixture toxicity prepared by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the implementation of a new evaluation strategy in the WHO, and the proposals from the OECD for internationally coordinated assessment principles. Participants from both countries agreed on the need to improve the global harmonisation of assessment methods for chemical mixtures. The two parties also recognised that the implementation of the above-mentioned measures would lead to improvements in the risk assessment of chemical substances.

For its part, the FSCJ was also very interested in the BfR’s current experience with deriving an Acute Reference Dose (ARfD) for the assessment of pesticide residues. Differences between procedures used in Japan, Germany and within the WHO/FAO were discussed, as were measures to ensure greater harmonisation.

German and Japanese experts are also cooperating in the area of developmental toxicity. At a joint workshop held with representatives of the Japanese Teratology Society (JTS), delegates discussed how their insights into reducing the rate of unclear diagnoses in animal experiments and the categorisation of developmental anomalies could be integrated into European assessment practices. As a next step, the plan is for joint solution strategies to be agreed between German and Japanese experts, and then presented for discussion at the annual meeting of the European Teratology Society (ETS). At the 10th Berlin DevTox Workshop, which the BfR will be organising in Berlin in February 2020, the findings will then be unified into an international set of terminology for use in investigations into developmental toxicity.

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. The BfR advises the Federal Government and Federal States on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

This text version is a translation of the original German text which is the only legally binding version.

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