Risk Communication to Safeguard Animal Health
Over the past year, the Food Safety Network has partnered with Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Veterinary Services to develop an online learning module covering topics related to animal health and emergency preparedness and response. To commemorate this work, the Food Safety Network is releasing a series of blogs focused on select topics discussed within this online learning module. This blog is the fifth in a six-part series and focuses on the topic of Risk Communication to Safeguard Animal Health.
How does risk communication of sanitary measures minimize trade disputes?
The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) defines risk communication as the process by which information and opinions about hazards and risks are gathered from those potentially affected (determined through a risk analysis) and where the assessment results and proposed measures are communicated to the decision-makers and interested parties in the importing and exporting countries.
The risk communication, then, makes clear who and what would be affected by any new measure. This brings additional certainty to trading partners and minimizes erratic disruptions without a degree of advance notice. It is, therefore, a key component of import risk analysis.
Risk communication is an ongoing, two-way process among multiple participants that begins at the start of the import risk analysis and continues throughout the process. Participants in risk communication are varied and dynamic, changing as the risk analysis process progresses and different needs arise (see figure below).
A risk communication strategy should be considered at the onset of the risk analysis to ensure information is openly and transparently shared among participants.
Key risk communication players include:
- Risk assessors, such as risk analysts, subject matter experts, epidemiologists, statisticians and economists;
- Risk managers, such as decision-makers, policy makers, legal experts, regulators and chief veterinary officers;
- Competent veterinary authorities of the importing and exporting country, usually the chief veterinary officer;
- Stakeholders, such as farmers and producers, livestock industry and consumer organizations, importers and exporters, academic and scientific institutions, or media; and
- Members of the World Trade Organization and the OIE.
Although risk communication strategies and participants vary, the objectives of risk communication remain the same: reduce trade disputes among trading partners while minimizing the import requirements needed to reach the importing country’s appropriate level of protection.
Effective risk communication aims to:
- Engage trading partners in an open, two-way exchange of information at the onset of the market access request to define the scope of the risk analysis, including the hazards likely to be associated with the commodities under consideration;
- Exchange accurate documentation and data during the risk assessment component to gather information from the exporting country and other reliable sources as inputs for the entry, exposure and consequence assessments;
- Engage epidemiologists, subject matter experts, statisticians and economists to provide technical expertise on animal diseases, disease surveillance, interpretation of data and risk assessment methodology;
- Comply with the key provisions (e.g., transparency, harmonization or equivalence) under the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures by sharing all documentation related to the scientific data, information about the export country, assumptions, uncertainties, qualitative risk levels, risk methodology, analyses, conclusions and other factors that were taken into account to reach the risk estimation and risk management decisions;
- For trade issues that are expected to be controversial or political in nature, consult with stakeholders, particularly producers and livestock industry and consumer organizations, to ensure legitimate concerns are adequately addressed and facilitate their understanding and buy-in for the risk management decisions;
- Clearly explain the rationale behind the risk assessment conclusions and risk management decisions to the exporting country and stakeholders;
- Define the timeline for implementation of import requirements and the approach for routine monitoring for compliance;
- Promote awareness and understanding of specific trade risks and management decisions related to animal health, especially to specific stakeholder groups affected by the sanitary measures;
- Strengthen relationships and mutual respect amongst all participants, particularly between the importing and exporting countries; and
- Instill public trust and confidence in trade decisions and risk mitigation strategies.
Often times, the biggest challenge for risk communication is conveying the results. The terminology may not be familiar to some stakeholders and the scientific language and data may be difficult to comprehend. Translating the information into layperson’s terms is important. Finally, perceptions and attitudes about risks can also vary and, once set, are difficult to change; targeting the message appropriately is critical.
Following these principles in risk communication can go a long way to ensuring unnecessary trade disruption, despite the introduction of various sanitary measures.
Want to learn more about the concept of animal health? Check out our free, self-paced, online Animal Health Learning Module which explores the evolution of the United States surveillance process, the value of a modern surveillance system and emergency response process, international trade and animal health, import risk analysis, risk management and risk communication, emergency preparedness and response, and concludes with a case study that allows learners to walk through a fictional country’s response to an African Swine Fever outbreak. Visit http://www.spscourses.com today to sign up for a free account and access this module and so much more!