Future policy challenges: Global and local food; a weak EU and ‘phood’

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

©iStock/PaulFleet
©iStock/PaulFleet

Related tags: Food safety, Food

Risk assessment, early warning for emerging hazards and official controls and inspections are areas where the EU legislative framework needs to be strengthened to deal with future issues, according to a report.

The European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety also found providing clear information and food and nutrition education could be improved to better address future challenges.

However, they added it appears to be robust and well prepared to respond to such challenges.

The study looks at resilience of the EU food safety and nutrition policy and regulatory framework by examining potential scenarios up to 2050​, challenges they may present and suggests policy options.

Global and regional food challenges and policy

Four scenarios were created based on drivers that can impact and change the food system.

These include global trade, EU economic growth, agro-food chain structure, technology uptake, social cohesion, food values, climate change, depletion of natural resources and population growth.

Scenarios were developed in workshops attended by members of EFSA, FSA, ANSES, BfR, Nestlé, Danone, Mondelez, Cargill, Nofima, BEUC as well as universities.

In the “global food” scenario, there is an ever more interconnected chain with increased trade and a more concentrated agri-food industry, while in the “regional food” part food is highly valued and produced locally or regionally with advanced technologies.

One of the main challenges was ‘Differences in the handling of food in third countries due to diverging food safety standards’.

Policy options included build efficient standards that also include implementation details and promote co-regulation or enforced self-regulation by food business operators.  

“Appropriately designed and monitored “co-regulation” i.e. sharing of specific regulatory tasks between regulatory author­ities and the food industry, would allow for better use of the available public resources, while giving more flexibility to the food industry and facilitating innovation.”

One of the main challenges for regional food was greater reliance for safety on individuals in food production.

Policy options were expand the scope of the General Food Law, hygiene regulations and controls to include individuals engaging in food production, establish a list of “high-risk” products and improve education.

Partnership and pharma food scenario

The “partnership food” scenario has an economically weak EU with close trade and policy ties to countries such as the US and Canada, while the fourth, “pharma food”, shows use of functional, processed food with pharmaceutical substances, driven by demand for healthy lifestyles.

One challenge identified was inadequate food safety and nutrition literacy, loss of food traditions and increased exposure to unreliable sources of information.

Policy options included mandatory food safety and nutrition education and information on technology advances and increasing exchange between consumer organisations.

“The loss of scientific and technological expertise in the EU can have serious repercussions for the food system: increased vulnerability to food fraud, inappropriate use of novel technologies leading to food safety hazards, as well as negative impacts on the EU economy due to the central role the food sector has in it.

“The European society in 2050 does not value food highly; food choice is driven by price and convenience and characterised by a food culture focused on the consumption of highly processed foods and out-of-home eating.”

In the pharma food scenario a challenge is suitability of the EU risk assessment procedures for new food ingredients, products and food-related technologies (including suitability of exposure data and maximum residue levels),

Policy options involve regulating “phood” manufacture by introducing a “Phood licence”, Enhance post-market monitoring and “nutrivigilance” controls and expanding third country controls.

This scenario describes a context where fresh produce may be limited due to climate change and people turning to functional, processed foods and those with added pharma­ceutical substances (phoods), in a personalised diet regime aimed at optimising health status.

“Multinationals control most of the food chain as the investments needed for research and placing such foods on the market are too high for small and medium sized enterprises.

“Additionally, the high complexity and number of active compounds, including pharmaceuticals, present in foodstuffs, bear a high risk of adverse health effects due to cocktail effects; therefore, to address the challenge of performing risk assessment related to cumulative and mixture effects (antagonism and synergy), the improvement and expansion of existing in silico computa­tional tools will be needed.”

Related topics: Policy, Food Safety & Quality

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