EFSA chief warns EU vulnerable to food safety threats

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food safety Risk management Food European union

The European Union (EU) is particularly susceptible to food safety threats, European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) executive director Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle has warned.

Speaking in Berlin recently on ‘Food Safety in Europe: Status Quo and Future Prospects’, at the Asia-Pacific Weeks business and science programme, Geslain-Lanéelle said:

“Europe is the biggest global trader in food products and the openness of the European market leaves us particularly vulnerable to food safety threats.”

A single food product could contain ingredients from across the world, Geslain-Lanéelle said, many of which were produced to non-European standards.

She added:“We must therefore remain constantly vigilant to threats, and if possible predict and intervene before they impact on our food supply.”

Early risk identification to protect the food chain was key, she said, pointing to the “recent and tragic ​E.coli outbreaks in Europe that showed there was “never any room for complacency in relation to food safety”, ​in light of the global supply chain.

German E.coli response praised

Despite some industry criticism of the German authorities’ response to the spring E.coli crisis, Geslain-Lanéelle praised staff at the nation’s Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) and Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BFR).

She said their “commitment and co-operation”​ during the German outbreak showed the importance of close relations between EFSA and national bodies to ensure a co-ordinated response to food safety emergencies.

Geslain-Lanéelle reminded her listeners of EFSA’s “raison d’être” on its foundation in 2002, ​following scandals relating to dioxin-tainted feed and BSE in the 1990’s.

"Namely, a science-based approach to policy and the formal separation of risk assessment from risk management," ​she said.

Emerging technologies

EFSA had a duty to provide scientific evidence enabling consumer and environmental protection and to communicate on risk to a wide range of stakeholders, Geslain-Lanéelle said.

“EFSA is increasingly called upon to assess risks to the environment – for example of GMOs – and to assess efficacy or benefit for either public health or the environment, such as our work on pesticides,” ​she added.

“This work is important from the perspective of the sustainability of the food chain and ensuring that innovation brings real benefits to society.”

Emerging technologies such as GMOs and nanoscience also meant there was a growing need for EFSA to consult with stakeholders, Geslain-Lanéelle said.

EFSA’s recently established Stakeholder Consultive Group on Emerging Risks (which includes food firms, processors, retailers, consumer groups and NGOs), was a valuable source of data to identify emerging risks, she added.

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