This year marks the 10th anniversary of the General Food Law and the establishment of EFSA, a defining moment in food safety in which the European Union turned firmly towards science to point the way forward. To recognise this milestone, EFSA is today holding a joint conference with the European Commission’s Directorate General for Health and Consumers (DG SANCO) to review the Authority’s main achievements over the past decade and to look ahead to the challenges that it faces in the future.
Delegates were welcomed by Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, EFSA’s Executive Director, who described the progress Europe has made in the area of food safety since 2002, highlighting success stories such as the fight to control BSE and reduce the incidence of Salmonella, and the great strides that have been made on food additives and flavourings, pesticide residues, contaminants in the food chain, and health claims on food labels.
Ms Geslain-Lanéelle emphasised that these achievements had been made possible by the combined efforts of risk assessors and managers as well as a range of actors in the food chain – farmers, retailers, consumer and industry bodies. “The food chain, increasingly complex, is only as strong as its weakest link,” she said, adding that the actors have different roles but all of them are critical.
The successes of the past 10 years were made possible by the decision taken in 2002 to separate risk management from risk assessment and to establish a science-based approach. This brought science to centre stage in food policy-making, a position it has retained.
Ms Geslain-Lanéelle added that EFSA would continue to build on this platform, because “food safety is always a work in progress and a risk assessor’s work is never finished”. As well as continuing to tackle existing public health priorities – such as zoonoses, obesity, and chemical contaminants in food – the Authority was facing many new challenges driven by such factors as scientific and technological advances, globalisation, economic and social developments, climate change and new legislative priorities.
The conference “Ready for the Challenges of Tomorrow” provides an important opportunity for EFSA’s partners and stakeholders – national food safety bodies, the European Parliament, EU agencies, consumer groups and other NGOs and industry – to debate the way forward for science-based food safety legislation, and to help flesh out the Authority’s vision of its future.
The first session, “Sharing learning, shaping EFSA’s future”, looked at how EFSA can best evolve to meet the challenges that lie ahead while continuing to strengthen the science-based advice that risk managers need to keep European consumers safe. Among the speakers were Ladislav Miko, Deputy Director-General for the Food Chain at DG SANCO, and Paolo Martinello, President of BEUC, the European consumers’ organisation.
The discussion in this session were guided by two presentations: the first, summarising the findings of the latest external evaluation of EFSA, was delivered by Sue Davis, Chief Policy Adviser at Which?, the UK consumer watchdog, and Chair of EFSA’s Management Board; Tony Hardy, Chair of EFSA’s Scientific Committee, then reported back on the highlights from EFSA’s Scientific Conference, “Challenging Boundaries in Risk Assessment – Sharing Experiences”, which took place in Parma last week.
This afternoon’s session, entitled “Can science work harder to support policy-makers in protecting consumers?”, will broaden the spectrum of the debate by focusing on the role of science in a world that looks very different from that into which EFSA was born in 2002. Speakers include Marit Paulsen and José Bové, Vice-Chairs of the European Parliament’s Agriculture and Rural Development Committee; and David Byrne, former EU Commissioner for Health.