EFSA outlines future food safety risks

 

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a draft strategic plan on Thursday pinpointing the areas where it foresees food safety issues to arise over the next five years.

EFSA’s draft Strategic Plan for 2009-2013 includes concerns about the impacts of an increasingly globalised food industry, consumer demand that products are easily accessible year-round and changing consumption patterns from emerging economies.

EFSA says: “The trend in global food trade both in terms of imports and exports is rising. What may have been a regional or national problem in the past has the potential to become Europe-wide or even global if it arises in a widely traded or used food or ingredient.”

EFSA also highlights increasing consumer demand for high-quality nutritional guidelines and information, and says that it expects the link between diet and health to feature more heavily in its future work, as well as responding to higher consumer expectations in terms of ethical, environmental and animal welfare issues.

The organisation has issued over 680 scientific opinions since its inception in 2002, with more than 200 of those in 2007 alone. EFSA’s management board said that it expects demand for its service to continue to grow as the range of its activities expands.

In particular, it envisages an increase in environmental risk assessments due to the prevalence in Europe of intensive agricultural methods which rely on the application of agrichemicals.

“The impact on soil, water supplies and pollution, the potential for contamination of food or feed crops, and the effects on food-producing animals provide EFSA with increasingly complex assessment challenges,” the document says.

Technology and climate

EFSA acknowledges it faces difficulties in dealing with the fast pace of innovation in both food production, such as nanotechnology and cloning, and associated risk assessment methodologies.

The document also highlighted climate change as a possible cause for future food safety concern and says: Climate change is expected to influence food and crop production practices and patterns, while changes in plant and animal disease distribution are also anticipated...Bluetongue in northern Europe may be an early indicator of what we might expect in future.”

EFSA response

As a result of these extra demands on its service, the organisation plans to further expand its staff, taking its total number of employees from 310 in 2007 to 412 by the end of this year, projecting an eventual staff level of 485 by 2013.

EFSA also announced its plan to increase cooperation with the food safety authorities of EU member states and appropriate third countries.

EFSA Executive Director Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle said: “EFSA is now well established. We have identified key priorities in the plan so that we can handle future challenges and opportunities while continuing to strengthen consumer protection across the European Union.”

EFSA was set up in 2002 to provide independent scientific advice on all aspects of the food chain in response to a series of food crises in the late 1990s.

The Strategic Plan is open to public consultation until November 3 and a final copy will be published in December. The draft document can be viewed via this link.

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