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BgVV calls for the safeguarding of toxicological expertise in Germany
The Federal Institute for Health Protection of Consumers and Veterinary Medicine (BgVV) has been prompted by the 41st Spring Conference of the German Society for Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology (21 - 24 March 200) to highlight the situation of toxicology in Germany.
Toxicology is the science which examines the effects of chemical substances on the health of humans and animals and on the environment. BgVV is the institution on the federal level that has the core task of undertaking the toxicological evaluation of substances and preparations and proposing methods for the health protection of consumers. Toxicological assessment requires special expertise which is acquired in a qualification process spanning several years following studies in medicine or one of the natural sciences. Institutes at the university, industrial, federal or Land level offer scope for qualification.
In recent years in particular the availability of molecular-biological methods has led to better understanding of the mechanisms of toxic damage. There are grounds for optimism that the use of these methods will make it possible to identify toxic damage with far less time input than was required up to now and will also permit improved interpretation of the findings for human health. The introduction and anchoring of methods of this kind in the routine testing of substances will be a task which the toxicological science will also have to face and will face. The use of these methods will do more justice to the idea of the precautionary principle than was possible so far.
Both tasks, training of young scientists and implementation of modern methods, can only be successfully tackled through the joint efforts of all three partners in this expert field: universities, industry and state institutions.
BgVV is, therefore, concerned that the situation of the discipline, toxicology, is constantly worsening at universities in Germany. Of the former 20 independent chairs of toxicology half have been axed in only 10 years (1987 - 1997) or reassigned to other disciplines.
The Institute fears that the loss of training and research facilities at German universities will mean that, in future, the scientific standards required in order to be able to discuss toxicological issues on the international stage will no longer be reached. If this happens, it will also act as a barrier to inputting national interests into measures of consumer health protection on the international level. A shortage of qualified toxicologists in Germany is already discernable. BgVV has problems now in manning its numerous expert committees with specialists from the universities.
From the angle of the medical faculties, toxicology may not be of great relevance. For public health care and consumer health protection, however, toxicology is of fundamental importance. BgVV calls on all those responsible to create the structural preconditions to ensure that the tasks of protecting the consumer from risks of substances will also be manageable in future on a high expert level.