Time for closer collaboration in food safety assessment?

After 20 years of successful implementation of the EU General Food Law, Dr Bernhard Url reflects on how to best address the increasing complexity underlying food safety assessment
Source: Alamy

By Dr Bernhard Url

Dr Bernhard Url is Executive Director of the European Food Safety Authority

31 Jan 2022

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is an agency funded by the European Union which provides independent scientific advice to the European Commission, the European Parliament and EU Member States. To deliver the highest societal value in response to its mandates, EFSA keeps up with the latest methodological developments, capitalises on new data sources and works with the best European experts. Recent changes in EU Food Law have further incentivised EFSA to integrate societal expectations towards more transparency and openness in its risk assessment process.

The European food safety ecosystem is rich in competent actors. It also faces a significant challenge: the complexity of the underlying science is relentlessly increasing. The main drivers for this development are the exponential growth of data and evidence, the sophistication of assessment methodologies and the continuous emergence of new toxicological criteria. Furthermore, the speed of technological innovation combined with the desire for openness and a more holistic assessment approach present both challenges and opportunities for EFSA and the larger European and global food safety ecosystem. Risk managers require timely high-quality advice on which to base their decisions. At the same time, no single organisation, not even a big one, is able to master all this complexity alone. Therefore, a need emerges to rethink how each actor of the food safety ecosystem can contribute its knowledge within a community to tackle complexity as a team.

“Intensifying cooperation between food safety ecosystem actors is a prerequisite for creating and combining the knowledge needed for healthy and safe food in Europe”

Engaging with different food safety ecosystem actors based on shared values and objectives brings organisations closer together and enables trustful cooperation. Joint investments in partnerships and cooperation build the capacity to deliver on complex regulatory science questions. EFSA’s EU Bee Partnership (EUBP) is an example of how stakeholders with a common interest can make progress when they are aligned on a common objective – in this case, the collection and sharing of bee health data across the EU. After four years of joint efforts, this goal became reality when the harmonised bee health data platform prototype was launched in July 2021. EFSA has since committed to funding further development to make the data hub fully operational within two years – a successful partnership.

Engagement and partnership are central to EFSA’s 2027 strategy and will feature prominently in our “One Health, One Planet, One Society” scientific conference taking place in Brussels on 21 to 24 June 2022. Intensifying cooperation between food safety ecosystem actors is a prerequisite for creating and combining the knowledge needed for healthy and safe food in Europe.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said: “Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do”. For generating and applying the knowledge of the future we must upgrade our cooperation towards deep and flexible partnerships. It needs willingness and action of the ecosystem actors themselves. And it needs the political support of the EU institutions and the Member States governments. After 20 years of successful implementation of the General Food Law it might be timely to reflect on how legal and structural improvements can enable stronger partnerships within the EU food safety ecosystem.

Click here to register for EFSA’s ‘One Health, One Planet, One Society’ scientific conference

This article reflects the views of the author and not the views of The Parliament Magazine or of the Dods Group