Food safety measures speak loudest when it comes to building confidence, according to the deputy commissioner for food policy and response at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“What we say about food safety matters, what we write about food safety matters, but what matters most is what we do,” said Frank Yannas at ONE – Health, Environment , Society – in Brussels and online.
Event, from 21 to 24 Juneorganized by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the European Chemicals Agency, the European Environment Agency, the European Medicines Agency and the European Commission’s Joint Research Center (JRC).
Yannas gave two examples of what the FDA is doing to improve consumer confidence.
“The first one is food traceability, we are in the process of issuing a final rule later this year. In terms of food safety, we know that in the event of a food panic, quickly tracking the food source can allow us to remove the product from the market and shorten the epidemic curve, carry out secondary intervention and prevent additional diseases. We believe that better food traceability is linked to transparency, and expanding it across the food system will increase trust,” he said.
“What is the opposite of transparency in food? For me, that’s what we have in today’s food system, too much anonymity, we don’t really know where these foods come from, what conditions they were produced in, what certifications they actually received, and consumers don’t know that either.”
Issues with data and consumer confidence
According to Yannas, the second activity has to do with data.
“I often say that improving food safety will start and end with better data. We have the ability to use tools to transform large amounts of big data into actionable proactive information. There is a big gap, but new tools like artificial intelligence, machine learning and the Internet of Things are closing the gap,” he said.
“In the data age, collaboration will increasingly involve public and private and public organizations in sharing data and transforming it into information, and the entire food system will become smarter together. At the FDA, we are working on data trusts and have launched several projects to do just that.”
Yannas said we are experiencing a “mega crash in consumer confidence.”
“Sociologists tell us that consumers have less trust in institutions, governments, companies, corporations, and even nonprofits. On top of that, people are becoming increasingly polarized on politics, climate change and how to deal with the pandemic. How about food? Do you think we, as a society, are increasingly polarized about food? I think the answer is yes,” he said.
“After three decades in the profession, I am sad to say that I increasingly see that food divides us. I think food should bring us together. We hear people say that I want local food, others say that they like world food. Some people want organic products, while others agree with regular products, they tend to be more affordable. Some eat only natural foods while others may eat processed foods. Today, in many countries, there is a problem that too much food is just as bad as too little.
“Never in history has the responsibility of providing safe, affordable and sustainable food for so many people been placed on the shoulders of so many, and never has the consequences of not respecting this right been greater.”
Over 4,200 participants registered online for the four-day event, and around 1,000 signed up to attend in person. Of the latter, nearly 90 percent are in Europe, with the remainder in Africa, Asia and North America.
EFSA perspective on One Health and collaboration
Bernhard Url, chief executive of EFSA, said the speed of change is creating widespread uncertainty and anxiety.
“The food system is in crisis: hunger, obesity, food waste, resource depletion and loss of biodiversity. At this conference, we would like to explore how food safety and more comprehensive health assessments can help transform food systems,” he said, opening the conference.
“The One Health concept aims to balance and improve the health of people, animals and the environment. We believe One Health principles are ideally suited to support our work to address complex and urgent health challenges. At EFSA, we think that applying these features will help our food safety work move forward and become more meaningful, and better inform policies to transform the food system. One Health acts as a stepping stone, it connects food safety with sustainable food systems.”
Url said there is a need to innovate faster in scientific methodologies to face the challenges ahead.
“There is a problem of trust – how can we secure our scientific advice in a society that is ready to accept it. Even if the outcome is disliked due to differences in value, people trust the process,” he said during a later panel discussion.
“Everyone is talking about cooperation and saying that yes, we need to cooperate more, this is not a problem, but it is not enough, so what are the obstacles? I think something is fundamentally wrong here, so let’s fix it. Collaboration adds complexity, you lose autonomy and give something away for a bigger purpose which means it takes longer. There may be cultural or language differences, budget cycles, and organizational goals. Maybe we should make cooperation the goal of the organizations, and not just something that could help us from the outside.
EU Regulatory Commission and the role of EFSA
Stella Kyriakides, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, says food safety trust, is at the heart of more sustainable food systems.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shown how much we need a reliable and sustainable food system that always provides enough affordable food,” she said.
“It also helped us understand how our health, ecosystems, supply chains, consumption patterns and planetary boundaries are interconnected. Increased droughts, floods, wildfires and the emergence of new pests are a constant reminder that our food system is under threat and must become more resilient and resilient.”
Kyriakides also mentioned the 20th anniversary of the Common Food Act and the creation of the EFSA.
“The general definitions, objectives and general principles of the regulation have redefined and shaped EU food law and policy. Chief among them is the principle of risk analysis, according to which food law must be scientifically sound,” she said.
“The scientific excellence of the EFSA has served to give the EU measures a solid scientific foundation. He retained confidence in the food supply to the EU. This has raised food safety and EU standards and has certainly helped raise international standards in the process. Thanks to EFSA and the Common Food Act, the European Union can be proud to have one of the most robust and efficient food safety systems in the world.”
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