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Five years successful work in the field of consumer protection

12/2008, 30.06.2008

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment presents its Annual Report

Whether they focus on BSE, coumarin, PAHs or Campylobacter, the BfR scientific assessments are always an important decision-making basis for politicians, scientists and industry. They also assume a reference function for the media, non-governmental organisations and consumer protection associations. This is the conclusion drawn in the Annual Report 2007, which has just been published, about five years successful work on consumer health protection. “Since the founding of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) in November 2002 our staff members have identified and assessed numerous risks which food, feed, chemicals and consumer products may entail for the general public. They have proposed ways of reducing them to political circles and informed the public at large about them”, says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, “In our work we have made a major contribution to consumer protection”.  

With the foundation of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, the legislator institutionalised the separation of risk assessment from risk management. The statutory remit of risk communication assigned to BfR by the legislator is unique for federal institutions in Germany. Diverse examples testify to the fact that the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment very much lives up to these high expectations. The mastering of the BSE crisis in Germany is a success story which was written in part by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment. Its scientific work and recommendations have set standards and been taken over into political decisions. In particular the ban on the administration of animal proteins in feed and of animal fats, an additional measure in Germany, to livestock, the consistent removal of specific risk material, the measures to avoid contamination during the slaughter process and the BSE monitoring of slaughter animals have all contributed to the risk to consumers being characterised as very low today.

Coumarin may be contained as a flavouring and fragrance in food and cosmetics. It is also used as a medicine to treat lymphatic vessel disease and varicose veins. This therapeutic use of coumarin has revealed that high concentrations of this substance can lead to inflammation of the liver which subsides once coumarin is no longer ingested. Some consumers seem to be particularly sensitive to this effect without the cause having been established up to now. The BfR assessment and public discussion prompted the manufacturers of Christmas cookies to considerably reduce the coumarin levels. The work results of BfR on this subject have also been taken over into European legislation. Given the lack of knowledge about the high concentrations of coumarin in Cassia cinnamon, the deletion of maximum levels for coumarin had been envisaged in the new flavouring legislation. BfR advocated their retention and submitted maximum level proposals which were included in the proposal of the European Council and European Commission.  

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are substance mixtures which are formed in conjunction with the incomplete incineration of organic materials like carbon, fuel, tobacco or during barbecuing. Various PAHs are very probably carcinogenic in man. They can impair reproduction and trigger cancer. There are no limit values for PAHs in consumer products. Industry has undertaken to comply with guidance values for technically unavoidable PAH levels. BfR has assessed individual levels and elaborated a uniform detection method. The result: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons have been considerably reduced in tool handles and other consumer products with elastomer components. In most cases manufacturers complied with the guidance values.

Thermophilic Campylobacter germs are yet another example of the Institute’s successful work. Besides Salmonella they are one of the most frequent causes of bacterial gastro-intestinal disorders in man. The infection involves severe diarrhoea. Children under the age of six and people aged between 20 and 30 are particularly badly affected. Studies conducted by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment together with the federal states describe for the first time the Campylobacter situation in Germany. In approximately 40 percent of the broiler flocks examined, the pathogen was detectable at the time of slaughter. These data are a first, important step towards controlling the germ in poultry flocks.

The above-mentioned examples only demonstrate some of the risks assessed by BfR over the last five years and some of the consumer protection measures taken on the basis of its scientific recommendations. True to its guiding principle “Science in the service of humanity”, BfR will continue – thanks to the high standards of its work and its scientific autonomy – to contribute to actively reducing potential risks for consumers and to protecting their health.

More on this in the 2007 Annual Report which is available free-of-charge from the Press Office and on the BfR website (section “Publications”).


Publications - Annual reports

Date Title Size
Annual report 2007 9.5 MB


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