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French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

Expert assessment and openness to society

The Agency’s areas of activity are characterised by a high level of public expectation concerning risk managementand an increasing need for transparency and participation. ANSES has launched various initiatives intended to take into account the contribution of actorsfrom civil society in risk assessment processes.

The founding texts of the Agency provided specific opportunities for openness with regard to the groups and organisations commonly known as stakeholders. In addition to the Chairman and employee representatives, the ANSES Board of Administrators consists of five colleges that include representatives of the State, various associations, professional bodies and trade unions, as well as elected officials. The voting rights are divided equally between the members of the college representing the State, and the other members. Furthermore, although most projects are in response to formal requests from its supervisory ministries, ANSES can also initiate formal internal requests or respond to those from stakeholder representatives. Alongside expert assessment and research, the Agency’s mission also includes supplying information, providing training and distributing scientific and technical documentation, as well as contributing to public debate, which it fosters and encourages.

Over and above the legal provisions that underpin the Agency’s missions and its structure, a number of initiatives have been taken concerning governance and implementation of collective expert assessment activities that are open to stakeholders. Five thematic steering committees dealing with food safety, environmental health, occupational health, animal health and welfare, and plant health, have thus been established. They are made up of Agency management, members of the Board of Administrators, and other individuals from outside the Agency who are highly involved in a given area or who are strongly identified with specific trends in civil society. These committees help to define Agency strategies and determine needs in terms of risk assessment and research. 

In September 2011, ANSES and four other public expert appraisal and research agencies adopted a charter on the opening up of expert assessment to society. The purpose of this charter was to apply principles of transparency and participation by taking into account the knowledge acquired by actors in civil society and the issues they have identified. The reliability of assessment activities can be increased by adopting this approach. Ultimately, the quality of the decisions that result from the assessment process, and understanding of these decisions by all stakeholders, can be improved.

In-house society watch and identification of social actors in the area of food, environmental and occupational health risks, brings to the forefront issues, expectations and knowledge which can provide guidance for expert assessment work. Building and maintaining a dialogue (theme-based meetings, hearings, consultations, work feedback, etc.) that covers both the framing of work and its dissemination, contributes to the scientific robustness and social relevance of the work produced by the Agency. It encourages trust and guarantees transparency with regard to the stakeholders, one of the founding values of ANSES. 

The creation in June 2011 of the "Radiofrequencies and health" dialogue committee, and in November 2012 of the "Nanomaterials and health" dialogue committee, were two important steps toward establishing lasting exchanges between the Agency's scientists and experts, citizen groups and industry players involved in these issues. 


The charter on the opening up of expert assessment to society

By adopting the charter on the opening up of expert assessment to society, which was signed in September 2011 by ANSES, the signatories expressed their commitment to greater openness and transparency with respect to their work and methods, and to improved sharing of available scientific knowledge and the uncertainties surrounding this knowledge. They also committed to taking greater account of the contribution of actors from civil society in risk assessment processes.

One of the missions of these public institutions is to provide the State with scientific and technical support on health and environmental risks to facilitate the public decision-making process. The charter is intended to promote shared understanding with actors from civil society of the complex issues involved in risk situations and of methods for dealing with them. It aims to increase the quality of the information these institutions provide to policymakers, and to raise public confidence in the way decisions are made.