EU food safety watchdog outlines future challenges

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Globalisation, climate change, new technologies and environmental pollution caused by agri-chemicals are among the risks that the agri-food sector will face in future, argues the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). 

The challenges are identified in a draft strategic plan outlining the agency’s work for the next five years.

Adopted by the EFSA management board on 2 October, the strategy notes that global food trade is rising and consumers are increasingly demanding year-round access to seasonal and convenience foods. Further globalisation is expected to increase the likelihood of “new or re-emerging risks” such as mad cow disease (BSE), it says.

Societal changes, including challenges posed by ageing societies such as health and diet and changes in consumer behaviour – as well as obesity and associated diseases – are also expected to impact upon the work of EFSA, which promises to continue providing scientific advice on the links between diet and health.

New food production technologies also present “new challenges”, notes EFSA, listing nanotechnology, cloning, genomics and proteomics (the study of proteins) as examples. The challenge here is also to upgrade existing and design new risk assessment practices to keep up with the pace of science and innovation.

Regarding European agriculture and sustainability, the authority notes that “the trend towards high-yielding, disease-free raw materials and the application of agrichemicals” poses a challenge as it impacts upon soil, water supplies and pollution and could lead to the potential contamination of food and feed crops. Therefore, EFSA expects to carry out more environmental risk assessments in years to come. 

The sustainability risk is said to go hand-in-hand with the challenge of climate change, which is expected to change plant and animal disease distribution and, indirectly, the use of agri-chemicals. Bluetongue, a cattle disease common in southern Europe, was recently found as far north as the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany (EURACTIV 21/08/06), and “may be an early indicator of what we might expect in future,” stated EFSA. 

Finally, the authority notes that its own workload represents a challenge due to steadily increasing demand for its services caused by changes in the EU’s policies and regulatory framework. The organisation therefore plans to grow from about 300 employees in 2007 to nearly 500 in 2013.

A public consultation on the draft strategic plan is open until 3 November, after which the EFSA management board is expected to adopt the final plan before the end of 2008.

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