Thursday, 17 October 2013

Bjorn Hansen

Safety of Plastics: Let's talk about it
           Bjorn Hansen             
Bjorn Hansen is Head of the Chemicals Unit at the DG Environment at the European Commission. Dr Hansen is one of the most knowledgeable experts on the history of REACH. He was involved in the development of REACH and ECHA and he will be participating on 6 November in the discussion panel on the topic "How to Drive Innovation in Risk Averse Societies?"

Science, Politics and Industry

1. What should be the role of science in policy making?
Policy Making should be based on the best science. Unfortunately science never delivers a message with 100% certainty, so policy is there to judge how best to deal with the remaining uncertainties.

2. What do you expect from policy makers?
Not sure I understand this question.

3. Can you define robust science vs. non-conclusive science?
From a policy perspective the issue is often that a decision is required at a pre-determined point. So in that relation the issue is slightly different. There can be consensus and disagreement between scientist on both issues, so for me the main issue is the level of consensus among scientists rather than the robustness of the underlying science.

Is industry funded research to be trusted?

Yes, at the same footing and under the same conditions as academic research.

5. How to avoid conflicts of interests hampering the credibility of independent agencies?
Transparency and how the individuals go about their work although they have (had) interests is the key. Not so much the development of stringent exclusion criteria.

The divergence approaches to risk regulation between the EU and US

6. Does culture affect how we approach legislation? Can you give examples?

Yes. In the US liability works across borders and is a very strong incentive to do things right. This safety net is all but non existent in the EU.

How to deal with unintended consequences of precautionism?

7. When should the precautionary principle be applied?
That can not be answered in a short paragraph without being misunderstood.

8. How can the precautionary principle enhance innovation?
In the same way as imposing burdens on undesired behaviour: if the burden is predictable then this promotes investment in less burdensome activities.

Is innovation possible in risk averse society?  

9. Is Europe risk averse?
'Risk Averse' is relative. I think in Europe the citizen expects industry to ensure safety and authorities to control that industry does. I would not say this is due to inherent risk-averseness, but more a societal expectation.

Do we need to take risk to be innovative?
Innovation always entails a business risk, but we do not need a risk to be innovative.

Health and Safety for Competitiveness

11. What would be your message to policy makers when it comes to the precautionary principle?
Use it more.

12. Can innovation (therefore, competitiveness) be possible with the application of the precautionary principle?
Yes, its all about predictability, not about innovation or precaution.

13.  In an ideal world, the scientific community, policy makers and industry should work together in order to guarantee the safety and health of all consumers, or should have be a healthy distrust between them to secure the health and safety of consumers?
Transparent cooperation gives better results than no cooperation. The cooperation will always be based on the perspectives the individual players weigh highest, so there will always be differences of view – but not necessarily mistrust.

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