What is risk analysis, and what difference does (and should) it make in the lives of ordinary citizens?
This talk discusses some of the main ideas of modern public health risk analysis, using a current example -- whether the US
should ban animal antibiotics used to promote growth and reduce illnesses in food animals such as chickens, cattle, and pigs.
Thirty six years ago, the Joint Committee on the Use of Antibiotics in Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Medicine (the Swann
Report) in the United Kingdom warned that uncontrolled use of similar antibiotics in humans and food animals might increase
resistant strains of foodborne bacteria that could endanger human health. Since then, many countries have banned use of
popular antibiotics in food animals. Despite intense political and activist pressure, other countries, including the
United States, have not yet done so, but have instead implemented measures to reduce total bacterial counts in food,
rather than focusing exclusively on antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
In retrospect, the strategy of banning or restricting animal antibiotic uses appears to have had limited success,
being followed in many cases by deteriorating animal health and increases in human illnesses and antibiotic r
esistance rates. On the other hand, in the United States, both animals and people appear to have significantly
lower bacterial risks now than they had decades ago. Modern risk analysis methods explain and predict this difference
This talk discusses policy and risk analysis issues in the history of animal antibiotic use and the roles of
conflicting concepts for risk management, such as "rational" (cause and consequence-driven) risk analysis,
concern-driven risk management, and the "Precautionary Principle" as approaches to societal decision-making
about uncertain risks. Experience has shown that well-intended policies for promoting public health may
often backfire -- an example of the Law of Unintended Consequences -- unless they are informed by realistic
cause-and-effect understanding. Risk analysis provides a framework for turning such understanding into
wise risk management policy.
Tony's new book is destined to be the bible on risk analysis, especially as it deals with the issue of antibiotics in animal feed as a risk to human health.
Cox LA Jr. Potential human health benefits of antibiotics used in food animals: a case study of virginiamycin. Environ Int. 2005 May;31(4):549-63.
Cox LA Jr, Babayev D, Huber W. Some limitations of qualitative risk rating systems. Risk Anal. 2005 Jun;25(3):651-62.
Cox LA Jr, Ricci PF. Causation in risk assessment and management: models, inference, biases, and a microbial risk-benefit case study. Environ Int. 2005 Apr;31(3):377-97.
Cox LA Jr, Popken DA. Bayesian Monte Carlo uncertainty analysis of human health risks from animal antimicrobial use in a dynamic model of emerging resistance. Risk Anal. 2004 Oct;24(5):1153-64.
Cox LA Jr, Popken DA. Quantifying human health risks from virginiamycin used in chickens. Risk Anal. 2004 Feb;24(1):271-88.