Food Safety Risk Analysis: Conference Ceremony, Osijek, Croatia

Speech
10 June 2010

Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle
 

Dear State Secretary, Deputy Mayor, Chair of the Management Board, Director General, Zorica, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Introduction

It gives me great pleasure to address you here in the beautiful and ancient city of Osijek this morning and to celebrate with you this important date in the history of the Croatian Food Agency (HAH). I am very happy that representatives of the national food safety agencies – Slovenia, Hungary, Germany and Bosnia-Herzegovina to mention but a few – and national research organisations are present here today.

To begin with I would like to congratulate everyone involved in the HAH, in particular Zorica (Jurković) and her staff, on its considerable achievements since 2005.

Through the Pre-Accession programme and other mechanisms, we have the pleasure to work closely with you on a regular basis and the experience is always very positive. Together, EFSA and the Croatian Agency have built a productive and effective relationship and we look forward to strengthening that cooperation with you going forward. EFSA has benefited greatly from the expertise of your staff member, Goran Kumrić, who is with us today. Goran has worked with us since 2007 as a seconded national expert in the context of the Pre-Accession programme and I would like to thank you for your cooperation in facilitating this arrangement.

You have gathered together an impressive panel of speakers for this event and it will be fascinating to hear the discussion on risk analysis in Croatia and the wider region because many of the challenges you face are shared right across Europe.

Background

Of course, the Croatian Agency and EFSA have much in common. We both have a dual mandate of risk assessment and risk communication and we both have our origins in the European food crises of the 1990s, in particular the BSE and dioxins crises, which caused so much damage to the reputation of the European food safety system and undermined consumer confidence.

The new food safety system is described in the White Paper on Food Safety which is 10 years old this year. It promoted the functional separation of risk assessment and risk management and emphasised science-based regulation. Subsequently, a series of legislative measures were put in place beginning with the Regulation that laid down the general principles and requirements of food law and established EFSA as an independent source of scientific advice and communication on risks associated with the food chain. With its emphasis on reinforcing European scientific risk assessment capacity and improving the responsiveness and transparency of the risk assessment process, we can say with confidence that the new model has been successful in rebuilding the trust of consumers and trading partners in the EU food supply chain and in strengthening the overall EU food safety system. Around the same time of the inception of EFSA in 2002, many national food safety agencies were also established based on the same principles. With all those national agencies we have built a close network with the joint mission of protecting European consumers.

How we work

EFSA is a science-based organisation and the quality and transparency of its science are critical.
We have a broad remit: the entire food chain, field to plate or farm to fork. Our mandates are received from Europe’s risk managers, in particular the European Commission, the decision makers with ultimate responsibility for implementing legislation. The Commission, Member States and European Parliament need our scientific advice. Our founding legislation rightly identified the importance of the excellence and independence of the scientific advice underpinning food law, and the transparency and inclusiveness of the organization developing this advice. These values underpin EFSA’s work and today the Authority has matured into an organisation with a workforce of over 400, headquartered in Parma, Italy. Although independent, EFSA is certainly not isolated. Over 1500 independent scientific experts contribute annually to our work programme and we work closely with 30 national agencies and over 350 national scientific organisations from around Europe. We are very pleased to have many Croatian scientists registered on EFSA’s Experts Database whom we can call upon to support our work.
EFSA’s risk assessments are carried out by its ten Scientific Panels, each with a distinct area of specialisation, supported by an overarching Scientific Committee. The questions we receive are complex.

We are increasingly aware of the need to provide comprehensive responses using the full range of expertise at our disposal. This “integrated approach” provides risk managers with a comprehensive overview of the scientific issues and, where appropriate, an assessment of benefits or efficacy as well as risks.

Demand for EFSA’s science has steadily grown since its establishment; the number of scientific outputs we issue has increased annually from 489 in 2008 to 630 last year. The nature of our mandates has also changed; we now devote up to 40% of our resources to applications including assessments of efficacy (such as feed additives or pesticides), benefits for health (such as health claims) and environmental risk assessment (for example of GMOs). In 2009, almost 80% of our scientific outputs related to applications and a similar picture is predicted for 2010 and 2011. EFSA’s advice is also used in establishing common targets, for example for Salmonella in animal products, and developing EU legislation on animal health and welfare.

Responsiveness is another key value for us; we are called upon several times each year to respond rapidly to urgent events.

So far this year, we have evaluated the risk to food and feed safety related to ash-fall from the Icelandic volcano that has disrupted air travel in recent months. Around the same time, we were asked to respond rapidly to the presence of a pesticide, chlormequat, in table grapes originating from India and within 24 hours we had adopted a statement which enabled Member States and the European Commission to take action to protect consumers’ health.

Cooperation with Member States

Cooperation with the national food safety authorities in Member States is central to our work. The benefits of cooperation are clear, they include: appropriate allocation of resources against priorities; better coordination of work programmes to avoid duplication; increased coherence in scientific risk assessment methodologies; exchange of information and data; and the early identification and analysis of emerging risks. The formal structures to implement cooperation are well known to many of you: the Advisory Forum brings together representatives of all 27 national food safety agencies, as well as observers (and Croatia is a very active observer in the Forum). It is supported by a network of national Focal Points, which, as we like to say, act as ambassadors of EFSA in the Member States.
We are very pleased that Croatia participates as an observer in both the Forum and Focal Point networks and, in that regard, I am very grateful to Zorica (Jurković) for her support. Many other Croatian representatives participate in EFSA meetings and events, including for example the Pesticide Steering Committee, the Taskforce on Zoonoses Data Collection and the Expert Group for Chemical Occurrence Data and, again, I thank all of you for your support.

Article 36

Through Article 36 of EFSA’s Founding Regulation competent organisations can assist the Authority in its work. The Article 36 organisations carry out a variety of scientific tasks, in particular preparatory work for opinions and data collection, which are financed through grants. In 2009 we have funded projects in Member State institutions to the tune of almost 7 million Euros and in 2010 we expect that figure to increase to almost 8 million. The focus of our efforts in cooperation is now moving towards building an integrated risk assessment capacity across Member States and at the EU level.

Communication

Communication on risk is always challenging, particularly so when you are addressing a diverse, multicultural audience, such as the 500 million citizens of the European Union. It is equally challenging when the risk is associated with new technologies and scientific innovation where there may be limited information or data. That is why we work closely with communication specialists in the national agencies. Through the Advisory Forum Working Group on Communications, we have built a more collaborative and informed approach to risk communication and I would like to thank the Croatian representatives, Davor Ileš and Diana Herold, for their contribution to the Working Group.

Challenges

The most challenging food safety issues we face are global in nature. Influenced by globalisation, new technologies such as nanotechnology, animal cloning, and GMOs, and climate change, risk assessment is growing in complexity and scientific uncertainties have to be addressed more frequently.

Furthermore, the sustainability of food production practices is an important concern going forward so, as well as assessing risks to consumers and agricultural workers, there is an increasing need for EFSA to include environmental risk assessments in its work, particularly in fields such as GMOs and pesticides. In practice, EFSA is now assessing much more than risk; increasingly we are also assessing benefits for health, impact on the environment, or the efficacy of substances such as pesticides or food additives.

International cooperation

To ensure that Europe is participating and influential in the international risk assessment arena, EFSA needs to look outside Europe and to analyse food safety concerns raised in other parts of the world. The global sharing of knowledge and approaches is increasingly important as we have seen for example with bisphenol A, a substance commonly used in plastics, or for the risk assessment principles of nanotechnologies. International cooperation is also fundamental to the identification of emerging risks and EFSA is building its capacity in this area together with risk managers and EU Member States. Last year, we published our international strategy and since then we have been busy implementing its various elements.

These have included putting agreements in place with national authorities in the USA, Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and international organisations such as the WHO. EFSA has also signed memoranda of understanding with EU agencies working in related fields such as the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) with whom we collaborate for example on antibiotic resistance and zoonoses and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) with whom we have a shared interest in the risk assessment of chemicals. We also have close cooperation with the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on areas such as residues of medicinal products and health claims, to mention but two. This ensures that we work synergistically where possible and use European resources wisely.

Stakeholders

Ongoing dialogue with stakeholder organisations with a legitimate interest in the area of food and feed safety is of primary importance to EFSA. As we grapple with complex technologies – such as GMOs and nanoscience – and new legislation, there is a growing need to keep stakeholders informed of our activities and to exchange views with them.

Our dialogue with stakeholders can also provide access to valuable data in relation to, for example, emerging risks. EFSA’s Stakeholder Consultative Platform is a key forum for engaging civil society in its activities; it includes European-level representation from primary producers, farmers, food manufacturers, processors, retailers, NGOs, in particular environmental NGOs, and, last but not least, consumer groups. We have other mechanisms for engaging stakeholders such as technical meetings, colloquia, briefings and symposia and we regularly use those, particularly in areas where we are providing advice on emerging technologies or in response to new legislation such as the health claims regulation. In addition, many of our scientific opinions are open to public consultation before adoption.

Data collection

The sharing of data is pivotal to our efforts in cooperation and fundamental to our exposure assessments and nutrition activities. In 2009, we issued nine data collection reports on key topics for the European consumer such as zoonotic diseases and pesticide residues in food. Earlier this year, we issued a report that reviewed our data collection activities with Member States to date; it emphasised the importance of cooperation and identified gaps that need to be addressed.

As a result, we have developed a proposal for the establishment of a standardised EU-wide food consumption database – a first for the Union – to enhance the accuracy of our exposure assessments. This widely-welcomed project, which we have called EUMenu, will require inputs from all Member States and will deliver tangible benefits, not just for risk assessors, but also for the nutrition research community and public health policy makers.

Conclusion

To conclude, I congratulate the Croatian Agency on its achievements over the past 5 years and I wish you every success for the future. We look forward to working closely with you and I hope that this conference proves to be a successful launch-pad for your future work.

Thank you and Happy Birthday!
Sretan rođendan!

END

Published: 11 June 2010