Food Safety Regulatory Research Needs 2030
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) regularly collects recommendations from members of the Scientific Committee and Scientific Panels on EFSA's research needs and priorities (EFSA, 2017). At the end of the 2015–2018 Scientific Panels mandate, we collected views of outgoing Panel members on what food safety research areas should be prioritised for the coming 5–10 years. The objective was, not only to capitalise on experience gained during the Panel mandate, but also to inform research agendas, such as the upcoming Horizon Europe – Research Programme. The identification of risk assessment research priorities and the communication of such priorities to the relevant actors is an important aspect of the ‘EFSA Strategy 2020: Trusted science for safe food’.1 In addition to the Panel members, EFSA staff and other EFSA partner organisations and stakeholders were consulted, including the following:
- By July 2018, 43 research needs were received from Scientific Committee/Scientific Panel members, as well as from EFSA's own scientific staff, describing briefly the scope and desired impact of the research.
- These research needs were collated and shared with EFSA's Advisory Forum for comments by September 2018.
- During EFSA's Scientific Conference (18–21 September 2018),2 EFSA consulted the wider scientific community participating in the conference and received 30 additional contributions.
- The various inputs were grouped into themes, and then tabled for consultation with EFSA's stakeholders at the Stakeholder Forum meeting (20 November 2018).3
- These consultations formed the basis for EFSA to formulate its regulatory research priorities under three research streams (Safe Food Systems, Innovation in Risk Assessment, and Holistic Risk Assessment).
- These research streams and priorities were tabled at the workshop: ‘Food Safety Systems for the Future’ on 17 January 2019 that was convened by Directorate General Research & Innovation, where the chair of EFSA's Scientific Committee introduced the first break‐out session to define the main challenges and opportunities for food safety.
- In February 2019, the Scientific Committee discussed and endorsed the research needs.
In formulating the research needs, attention was paid to relate to the current debate and reflections in preparation towards Horizon Europe. In particular, the Food20304 debates are relevant for food safety, where Research & Innovation will need to support a systems change, in ways to deliver enough safe food to feed a growing world population. Considering the UN Sustainable Development Goals and citizens’ requests for sustainable and safe food, regulatory science will need to support sustainable food systems by assessing the safety and efficacy of innovation in the food chain. The 7th Environment Action Programme (EAP)5formulated an inspiring forward‐looking vision: ‘In 2050, we live well, within the planet's ecological limits. Our prosperity and healthy environment stem from an innovative, circular economy where nothing is wasted and where natural resources are managed sustainably, and biodiversity is protected, valued and restored in ways that enhance our society's resilience. …’. Furthermore, research needs identified in the ‘JRC report on delivering on EU food safety and nutrition in 2050’ (Mylona et al., 2016) have informed this paper.
Recent discussions and statements, including the ‘Lamy Report’6 and the Tallinn Call for Action,7 call for better alignment with EU/national R&I investments and facilitate collaborative approaches. The interim evaluation of the H2020 research programme found that more attention needs to be given to make sure research delivers impact. Therefore, our research priorities do not stop strictly at the borders of risk assessment but consider the full risk analysis framework to ensure that research and innovation indeed can deliver the desired innovation and impact on science and society.
Innovation is important to EFSA's work, for example, when performing safety assessments of regulated products in food, feed and the environment, to be able to assess novel products in a pre‐market phase (e.g. synthetic biology, nanotechnology). Therefore, we choose to formulate broad research streams, showing the interconnectivity and impact on science and society, under which we brought together the more specific research themes and topics from the consultations. The ten research themes and underlying topics from the consultations are listed in Annex A.
Other important developments that influenced the formulation of these research needs include the cooperation with other EU Agencies and the Risk Assessment Research Assembly (RARA).8 In February 2018, EFSA convened policymakers and the wider scientific community (200 participants from 39 countries) to discuss research priorities and ideas (EFSA, 2018). On this occasion, EFSA's Advisory Forum highlighted the mutual benefits of increased interaction between funders, EU agencies and national partners on food safety research,9 to enable:
- access to expert networks in Member States (MS), pre‐accession and neighbourhood countries
- avoid duplication/redundancy in research efforts
- strengthen the science/policy interface and help research to deliver impact
- exploit outcomes of research projects and provide sustainable follow‐up
- disseminate research results: engage regulators, public bodies, civil society.
EFSA performs regulatory science, assessing the latest science to inform policy decisions, and operates a large network in and beyond Europe. EFSA actively works with many partners to exchange data, information, expertise and staff, through our Advisory Forum and 375 competent organisations, including public authorities, universities and research organisations. EFSA coordinates 16 scientific networks with representatives from all MS and is active in several international networks and liaison groups, such as the Global Coalition for Regulatory Science Research.10
In response to the call for coordination in the area of food safety research at the RARA event, where participants called on EFSA to be a knowledge‐broker between scientists and policy makers, EFSA established a Research Platform (http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/engage/research-platform) on its website that is home for the wider food safety research community, aiming to support project ideas, promote consortia formation, and help scientists find opportunities for food safety research funding.
EFSA works closely together with the EU Agencies Network for Scientific Advice (EU–ANSA)11that provide scientific advice to EU policymakers. This network recently published a reflection paper (EU‐ANSA, 2018) that proposes actions to enhance the added value of EU agencies to EU research actors and policymakers in the EU institutions, by engaging more actively in the research knowledge cycle. One such action for EU Agencies is to be more actively involved in shaping and informing research agendas.
In order to inform research agendas, this paper presents, in the following tables, three research streams bringing together the main research needs and priorities in support of food safety risk assessment in the coming years. These Food Safety Regulatory Research Needs for 2030 should be useful when developing Safe Food Systems of the future as well as EFSA's Strategy for 2027.