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Frank Laporte: Chemical Cocktails and a Walk Through Paris

Our health is his motivation: As a Dietary Safety Expert at the Bayer Research Center in Lyon, France, Frank Laporte estimates the potential risks related to the presence of residues of plant protection products in food. This keeps consumers safe while making international food production and trade easier.

Ensuring that people have enough to eat contributes to world peace.

Frank Laporte cares inside-out about crops.

The 13th of October 2010 was a bright and sunny autumn day. At the headquarters of OECD (The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) in western Paris representatives of important countries from all over the World were waiting for me and I was stuck at the other end of the city during a general strike of public transportation. I had no choice but to walk – as fast as possible with my limp – along the Champs-Elysées and other fancy streets. The clock was ticking, and I was in pain, but this would turn out to be the most exciting day in my career.

In my daily work, I evaluate the results of trials conducted in fields or glasshouses with plant protection products (also known as pesticides). I then estimate whether or not the residues of these products in the treated crops are likely to cause a health concern for consumers. So I spend a lot of time in front of my computer, interpreting data. It helps my work that I’m a very visual person. When it’s a field trial on tomatoes, I try to picture every detail, such as the distance between plant rows or the shape and size of fruits and leaves. In that way, I can better understand what my colleagues outside on the field exactly did while conducting the trials.

Looking at Dürer and data

When I take vacations, I like to travel and to explore the historical places and art museums – I prefer classical art. I could spend hours sitting in front of a Dürer painting, just looking at it. Since my mother is German and my father French, I grew up with both cultures and at a very early age, I started to see myself as a European. But if I have to choose, my favorite city in the world will always be Paris. It’s where I was born and I spent a lot of time there when I was young.

Another thing I love to do when I travel is to get a view over a city from a hill or a tower. I find this fascinating and I also enjoy doing this at home in Lyon. On clear days, from the hill of Fourvière, which is just above the old town, you can even see the Alps and the Mont Blanc.

This somehow relates to my work, where I also have to see the big picture in the data I analyze. Currently a hot topic is the assessment of cumulative risks, better known as the ‘cocktail effects.’ For example, the potato on your plate might have been treated with a different pesticide than the corn cob you have with it – not to mention the grapes that were used to produce your wine. The current approaches ensure that the residues of each pesticide are safe, no doubt. But what about the combination of residues from several pesticides that you create while preparing a meal? Our task is to find reliable ways to assess the potential effects of these mixtures on consumer health.

New frontiers in food production

The exchange with other experts, from the industry or regulatory authorities, is also an important and motivating part of my job. As a member of various external committees, I participate to the development of internationally harmonized test methods and risk assessment methodologies. This facilitates cooperation between regulatory authorities across the world and improves consumer safety, while also facilitating free trade of food. It’s in this context that I was going to make a presentation at the OECD headquarters in Paris on that special day.

In my backpack, I was carrying the results of four years of team work: a new, harmonized method to set maximum residue levels of pesticides in crops. I arrived at the OECD out of breath, but I finally presented our method to the OECD Member States. First, nothing happened. Then the representative of New Zealand took the floor and stated that his country was willing to adopt the calculation model as soon as possible. This was the signal for the representatives of the other countries to also express their view. One after another they all agreed with our proposal, which in the meantime is known as the “OECD MRL calculator” and is used all over the world. It was an overwhelming moment for me as a scientist – and absolutely worth walking all the way through Paris!

CV: Frank Laporte

1968 Born in Paris

1987 Engineer diploma at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, France

1990-1993 PhD in organic chemistry at Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, France

1994-1997 Research scientist in catalysis at Rhône-Poulenc Industrialisation in Lyon, France

1998-1999 NMR lab leader at Rhône-Poulenc Industrialisation in Lyon, France

1999-2000 Study director for residue analyses at Rhône-Poulenc Agro in Lyon, France

2000-2003 Product responsible scientist for residues and consumer safety at Aventis CropScience in Frankfurt, Germany

2003-2005 Product responsible scientist for residues and consumer safety at Bayer CropScience AG in Monheim, Germany

2005-2009 Product responsible scientist for residues and consumer safety at Bayer CropScience in Lyon, France

Since 2009 Dietary Safety expert/Human Safety Manager at Bayer CropScience in Lyon, France

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