, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 158–169 | Cite as

Policy and Science Implications of the Framing and Qualities of Uncertainty in Risks: Toxic and Beneficial Fish from the Baltic Sea

  • Timo Assmuth


Policy and research issues in the framing and qualities of uncertainties in risks are analyzed, based on the assessments of dioxin-like compounds (DLCs) and other ingredients in Baltic Sea fish, a high-profile case of governance. Risks are framed broadly, to then focus on dioxins and beneficial fatty acids, fish consumption, human health, and science-management links. Hierarchies of uncertainty (data, model, decision rule, and epistemic) and ambiguity (of values) are used to identify issues of scientific and policy contestation and opportunities for resolving them. The associated complexity of risks is illustrated by risk–benefit analyses of fish consumption and by evaluations of guideline values, highlighting value contents and policy factors in presumably scientific decision criteria, and arguments used in multi-dimensional risk and benefit comparisons. These comparisons pose challenges to narrow assessments centered, for e.g., on toxicants or on food benefits, and to more many-sided and balanced risk communication and management. It is shown that structured and contextualized treatment of uncertainties and ambiguities in a reflexive approach can inform balances between wide and narrow focus, detail and generality, and evidence and precaution.


Food contamination Guideline values Health Integrated assessment Risk–benefit Uncertainty 



This work has been aided by grants from Nordic Council of Ministers, Finnish Ministry of the Environment; the EU’s 6th Framework Programme for R&D (contract No 003956), and Finnish Fulbright Center. Support from Finnish Environment Institute and University of Helsinki is also gratefully acknowledged. Thanks go to colleagues for their contributions, and to the anonymous reviewers. The author is responsible for the opinions expressed.


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.SYKEHelsinkiFinland

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