New Risk Assessment Course Offered by Iowa State University

December 1st, 2005

Iowa State University is among the first in the nation to offer a course in risk assessment for the biological sciences.

The graduate course teaches students how to interpret the risk of adverse incidents in such situations as transgenic contamination, the occurrence of salmonella in food and other agricultural or biological situations.

The course is in its first semester. Risk Assessment for Food, Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine is offered by the Department of Agronomy and the Department of Veterinary Diagnostics and Production Animal Medicine.

According to Scott Hurd, co-instructor and veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine professor, risk assessment involves connecting the chain of events that lead to a negative health impact in a way that estimates the probability of that harm or risk occurring.

"Risk assessments provide policy-makers scientific information to use in making decisions," Hurd said.

Risk assessment methodology is consistent across disciplines and has been used for years in other areas, such as engineering and economics. However, Iowa State is among the few to apply it to the biological sciences, particularly food and veterinary medicine.

Jeff Wolt, agronomy professor and course co-instructor, said the course allows students to understand how science is used in decision-making.

"We introduce students to the concept of risk assessment, how to perform risk assessment and how to deliver the information to policy-makers," Wolt said. "A risk assessment can serve as the conduit for bringing science to the policy arena."

The course requires students to develop their own risk assessments in their areas of interest and review assessment case studies. Examples of assessments students are likely to create include the impacts of antibiotic resistance on food supply and the likelihood of bacteria existing in food.

Angela Laury, an animal science and meat science graduate student enrolled in the course, chose to perform a risk assessment on Bacillus cereus on fried rice. "I want to determine the likelihood of this bacteria occurring in restaurants when fried rice is reheated," said Laury.

This course is the first in an envisioned three-course series. The remaining courses will cover risk assessment, risk analysis, which is the integrated process of assessing, managing and communicating risk, and policy formulation.

Contacts: 

Jeff Wolt, Agronomy, (515) 294-6899, jdwolt@iastate.edu
Melea Reicks Licht, Agronomy, (515) 294-1890, mreicks@iastate.edu
Ivonne Martinez Shepard, Agronomy, (515) 294-3763, ivonne@iastate.edu

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