As the European Parliament and Council move towards the EU General Food Law reform after approving the European Commission’s proposals for greater transparency of the risk assessment process in the food chain, we take a look at what the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) believes is needed to build food safety trust and transparency.
The European Food Safety Authority will focus its efforts on working in a more transparent way as the agreement aims to contribute to EFSA acquiring greater legitimacy in pursuing its mission and increase citizens' confidence in EFSA's work.
“Citizens require this level of transparency as they're looking to be able to understand and accept, or believes in the trustworthiness of the risk assessments,” said Wayne Anderson, Director of Food Science and Standards at Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI).
Achieving this open communication is vital if we are going to “overcome a certain level of distrust” that exists and “to continue manufacturing food in the way that we've been doing for many years,” he added.
Consumers and Manufacturers: Do We Know Enough?
Access to information about where food is, what food processing is all about and what food chains are, is increasingly present. TV programmes that convey the story of how your food is made; where it's coming from, what it means, and exploring packaging have become more mainstream.
Witnessing changes in recent years, Anderson relays that food safety trends encompass both established needs that have been in existence for some time and micro patterns that explode onto the food safety scene and then often disappear.
Calls for Transparency
Releasing its New National Roadmap for Consumer Protection in Relation to Food Safety, FSAI sets out its five-year strategy and in its 20th year, unveils new research into consumer attitudes. The FSAI also aims to communicate that its role is as an enforcement body that uses evidence and science to risk assess the activities it undertakes.
The consumer need for transparency then filters through to food manufacturing and impacts ingredients, allergens, packaging and the wider food production environment.
Through a “massive safety system” via the European Food Safety Authority and the member states that feed into it, the use of additives and pesticides go through considerable risk assessments to reach the level of food safety that exists today, Anderson shared.
Food safety law strives to increase transparency to remove distrust, as demonstrated by EFSA proposing to place a real focus on transparency and sustainability of the EU risk assessment model in the food chain.
A Larger Problem Ahead?
However, Anderson anticipates that this increased shift to transparency is “probably a microcosm of what potentially we're facing into the future”.
Ultimately, therefore, “we have to do our science in a different, a more transparent way to ensure that people still maintain trust in the food supply”.
Lessons from Food Fraud
Recalling the horse meat scandal in 2013, Anderson explains how in that instance, it turned out to not be an Irish problem, but a pan European problem. Consequently, numerous mechanisms have been put in place since to deal with food fraud around Europe, and it's an area that has received far more focus in recent years.
As a result, the food fraud task force, for instance, a network at the European level where member states can discuss food fraud issues, was established. A new system, similar to the rapid alert system that surveys communication on information related to food fraud was also launched, demonstrating how food safety agencies are “a bit better geared up”.
In the next few years, the focus for agencies throughout Europe will be to “ensure that limited resources are focused in the right areas”.
The EFSA will be centred on trying to identify emerging risk, anticipating possible issues, and striving to make sure we have enough information about them before they become a food safety concern.
As such, the FSAI see its jobs as communicating and generating awareness around best practices through providing sufficient information and enforcing the law when required.
The Road to Transparency
The food business operator is primarily responsible for the safety of the food it places on the market. Therefore, the FSAI’s communications with food businesses revolve around making sure that awareness of that responsibility is present and that operators follow the law. Agencies, including the FSAI, will then carry out inspections or testing to verify their compliance with food laws.
Operators must be made aware that failure to comply will result in the removal of their food from the marketplace. Therefore, manufacturers must actively work to ensure food safety is their paramount consideration.
In terms of discussions with consumers, FSAI believes it's very much a case of trying to explain what they are doing to consumers and why they are doing it too, while communicating the amount of effort, work and time that goes into actually protecting the food supply.
Citizens “expect more transparency” out of organisations that are working on their behalf, and so these consumer demands have reached agencies such as the FSAI, which “work in a very different space than we used to”, Anderson stressed.