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French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

Charter on the social representativeness of expertise: a commitment by five public institutions involved in research, expertise and assessment of public health and environmental risks

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News of 13/09/2011

13 september 2011

On 9 September 2011, ANSES, Cemagref (1), Ifsttar (2), INERIS (3) and the IRSN (4) signed the Charter on the social representativeness of expertise, thus reaffirming their commitment to dialogue with stakeholders in civil society as part of their expertise and research activities.

Commitment of the five institutions

The Charter on the social representativeness of expertise commits the signatories to being more open and transparent with respect to their work and methods and also to more effectively sharing the current scientific knowledge and the uncertainties inherent to it, as well as to paying more heed to the part played by stakeholders in the risk assessment process.

Among the missions of these five public institutions is the requirement to provide the Government with scientific and technical support on health and environmental risks in order to facilitate the public decision-making process. The Charter just signed is intended to promote shared understanding with the stakeholders of the complex issues involved in risk situations and of alternative ways of dealing with them. It will help improve the quality of the work provided to the policymakers by these institutions, as well as society's trust in the way decisions are made.

Already signed in October 2008 by AFSSET (now part of ANSES (5) ), INERIS and the IRSN, this Charter has now been adopted by two new public institutions, Cemagref and Ifsttar, which identify with its shared values and commitments.

Social representativeness at ANSES

The Agency is often faced with a dual challenge in the issues it investigates: great scientific complexity but also a strong demand from society to anticipate and control risks while ensuring more transparency and participation in process development. ANSES has a unique approach to meeting these demands. In addition to the adoption and implementation of the Charter and its commitments, several points are worth noting.
Social representativeness, which was a recurring subject of the debates prior to ANSES's creation, was embodied in specific entities in the Agency's founding articles. Thus, its Board of Administrators consists of five colleges, including, alongside its Chairman and employee representatives, stakeholders from associations, professional guilds and labour unions, and elected officials. A second original feature is the establishment of thematic steering committees involving the Agency's managers, Board members who are particularly interested in a given subject and relevant and/or emblematic personalities from civil society. Four committees were therefore set up in October 2010, bringing together over one hundred stakeholder representatives in the fields of environmental health, occupational health, food, animal health and welfare. They help the Agency express its needs in terms of risk assessment, reference and research, and define its strategic priorities, by making it aware of the predominant concerns of civil society. Most of ANSES's expert assessment work is conducted in response to solicited requests from its supervisory ministries. ANSES can also issue formal internal requests or respond to requests from its stakeholder representatives. It should be emphasised that these requests are dealt with as part of a collective and adversarial expert assessment process, guaranteeing the independence of the Agency's scientific work. In addition to its expertise and research activities, the Agency also aims to "contribute to information, training, dissemination of scientific and technical literature, and public debate, which it stimulates and encourages".

Moreover, for subjects that are the focus of strong societal concerns and controversies, thematic dialogue committees are set up to provide input to the Agency for its research and expertise strategies. A "Radiofrequencies and health" dialogue committee was set up in June 2011 with representatives from associations and unions, mobile telephone operators and broadcasters, institutions and local authorities. A dialogue committee on Nanomaterials is also scheduled to be set up along the same lines in 2012.

Confronted with the complexity of certain issues and the scientific uncertainties involved, the Agency develops innovative methods of scientific assessment that may call on the human and social sciences (principally sociology and economics).
Sociological approaches then yield additional information on "societal" concerns regarding health issues, both upstream and downstream of the expert assessment, and help to shed light on critical points (incompleteness of scientific facts, procedures for validating knowledge under conditions of uncertainty, etc.).

Finally, a "social watch" function and the maintaining of regular contact with stakeholders allow the Agency's expertise work to be placed in context, and enable a clearer understanding of the issues and terms of the public debate.

These are just some of the activities contributing to social representativeness and thus the effective implementation of the Charter.

(1) French Agricultural and Environmental Engineering Research Centre
(2) French Institute of Science and Technology for Transport, Development and Networks
(3) French National Institute for Industrial Environment and Risks
(4) French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety
(5) AFSSA and AFSSET merged on 1 July 2010 to form the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES)

Find out more

> Charter on the social representativeness of expertise signed on 9 September 2011 by ANSES, Cemagref, Ifsttar, INERIS and IRSN (pdf in french)
> Presentation of the Agency's governance bodies
> Expert assessments
> Note concerning the setting up of the Radiofrequencies and Health dialogue committee (pdf in french)
> Press Release - Establishment of a “Radiofrequencies and Health” dialogue committee by ANSES on 15 June 2011