THE FOOD CHAIN
Europeans enjoy one of the highest levels of food safety in the world. Ensuring safe, healthy food for consumers is achieved through the continued cooperation of Member States and the EU's institutions and independent agencies. One of them is the European Food Safety Authority, or EFSA, which provides scientific advice on potential risks along the entire food chain.
EFSA's scientific remit covers the full range of consumers' field to fork concerns:
- plant protection
- animal health and welfare
- impact on the environment
- transportation and storage
- food production and innovation (including health claims)
- food consumption
FIELD AND FARM
Plant protection products are a reality of modern times. However, if not strictly regulated, chemicals in pesticides could have serious effects on human health. EFSA plays an important role in ensuring the safe use of pesticides. EFSA's scientists also evaluate the risks posed by pests and weeds to plant health.
ANIMAL HEALTH AND WELFARE
Food safety is linked to the health and welfare of farm animals. Many food-borne diseases that affect humans, such as campylobacteriosis and salmonellosis, originate from animals or products of animal origin. EFSA works on issues such as housing, feeding and transportation of livestock to prevent and reduce the risk of diseases. EFSA also assesses the safety of animal feed, which is important for animal and human health.
IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT
Increasingly, EFSA is required to consider the food chain's impact on the environment. For example, the Authority assesses potential risks to the eco-system of genetically-modified crops as well as pesticides, feed additives and invasive plant species.
FACTORY TO FORK
Transportation and storage
Food, during storage and transportation, may be exposed to biological infection and chemical contamination. For example, there may be chemical residues from previous cargoes found in freight containers used to transport edible oils and fats. EFSA assesses the risks of such contamination from contact with, for instance, animals, food handlers, machinery, vehicles and packaging materials.
Food production and innovation
Many food and feed related products require scientific risk assessment by EFSA before they can be authorised for use on the EU market. 'Regulated products' include substances used in feed and food (such as additives, enzymes, flavourings, nutrient sources), food contact materials and pesticides as well as GMOs, food manufacturing processes and processing aids. EFSA's regulated products mandate also includes the scientific substantiation of nutrition and health claims.
Claims made about the nutritional or health benefits of foods can provide information to help consumers in choosing a healthy diet. EFSA evaluates the scientific basis of such claims to help ensure that they are not misleading.
FOOD CONSUMPTION DATA
Knowing what Europeans eat is essential for protecting consumers. Food consumption data underpin not only food safety decisions but also advice on nutrition and the diet. However, different data collection methods used by EU countries can hinder EU-wide comparisons. EFSA and its partners have taken steps to harmonise collection of such data, leading to standardised information on people's diet across Europe.
SCIENCE PROTECTING CONSUMERS
EFSA – a science-based organisation
EFSA was set up in 2002, following a series of food crises. Establishment of EFSA was aimed at separating the assessment and management of risks associated with food. As a consequence, EFSA plays the role of risk assessor, providing impartial scientific advice on food-related issues. EFSA's advice is used by the European Commission, Member States and the European Parliament (risk managers), who make decisions or develop legislation about food safety.
How EFSA communicates
The Authority also has an important role in communicating its scientific advice to its principal partners, stakeholders and the public at large. This helps to bridge the gap between science and the consumer.