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Emerging risks

An emerging risk is: “a risk resulting from a newly identified hazard to which a significant exposure may occur, or from an unexpected new or increased significant exposure and/or susceptibility to a known hazard.”

The successful identification of emerging risks is at the heart of protecting public health and the environment. By identifying emerging risks in the food chain early, EFSA supports risk managers in anticipating risks and taking effective and timely prevention measures to protect consumers, animals, plants and the environment. Identifying emerging risks also helps to im-prove EFSA’s ability to meet future risk assessment challenges, for example, by mining new sources of data, developing new analytical tools and methods, and broadening networks of sci-entific knowledge.

Latest

Ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP) is the most common type of marine biotoxin food poisoning worldwide. It is typically caused by the consumption of fish that have accumulated ciguatoxins (CTX) in their flesh. CTX are produced by benthic microalgae from the genus Gambierdiscus spp. Typical of tropical and subtropical areas, CFP was first recorded in the Spanish and Portuguese Macaronesia islands of the Atlantic Ocean in 2004.

To better understand the risks of CFP in Europe, EFSA and the Spanish Food Safety Authority (AESAN) jointly funded the EuroCigua project between June 2016 and January 2021. The project aimed to determine the spread and main characteristics of ciguatera in Europe; measure biotoxin levels in microalgae and in fish; and develop analytical methods to characterise these toxins. A video of the final project workshop provides a detailed overview:

The Eurocigua project recorded a total of 34 outbreaks and 209 cases in Europe between 2012 and 2019. It found Gambierdiscus and another microalgae genus called Fukuyoa spp not only in the Spanish and Portuguese Atlantic islands but also in several Mediterranean islands including Crete, Cyprus and, for the first time, the Balearics. The project also developed and implemented analytical methods for the identification, quantification and confirmation of CTX.

EuroCigua confirmed that CFP is becoming endemic in the Macaronesia area. Climate change and globalisation of trade are the main drivers of the spread of CFP, which is intensified by travel to tropical areas. Further data collection, analytical method standardisation and development of predictive modelling are needed to inform adequate risk management of CFP in Europe.

Milestones

  1. 2020

    EFSA publishes the results of the CLEFSA Project (see also separate topic) describing a methodology for identifying and characterising the possible effects of climate change on emerging risks in the food safety area, and holds an info session.

  2. 2019

  3. 2018

  4. 2017

  5. 2016

    EFSA tests a text mining tool for emerging risk identification, a media monitoring tool MedISys for plant health threats and a procedure for identifying emerging chemical risks in the food chain. See also EFSA's Activities on Emerging Risks in 2016.

  6. 2015

    An EFSA funded project reviews and analyses cyanobacteria toxins in food while EFSA appraises its procedures and future directions for identification of emerging risks. See also EFSA's Activities on Emerging Risks in 2015.

  7. 2014

    EFSA finalises a systematic procedure for the identification of emerging chemical risks in the food/feed chain and identifies drivers and interactions of emerging biological risks. See also: EFSA’s Activities on Emerging Risks in 2014.

  8. 2012

    July and January

  9. January

    EFSA supports a project on modelling, predicting and mapping the emergence of aflatoxins in cereals in the EU due to climate change. See also EFSA's activities on Emerging Risks 2012-2013.

  10. 2011

    EFSA’s 15th Scientific Colloquium covers its work on emerging risks, while the 16th looks at emerging risks in plant health.

  11. 2010

    EFSA developed IT tools for identifying emerging risks through routine analysis of data from the Rapid Alert System on Food and Feed (RASFF) of the European Commission and databases of trade statistics from the EU’s Comtext and the UN’s Comtrade databases.

  12. 2009

    EFSA developed IT tools to support the development of web monitoring systems for the detection of emerging risks.

  13. 2007

  14. 2006

    EFSA’s Scientific Committee adopts an opinion on the early identification of emerging risks.

EFSA's role

Under Article 34 of EFSA’s Founding Regulation 178/2002, the Authority is required to:

  • identify, assess and disseminate information on emerging issues and ensure coordination with relevant networks and international organisations
  • promote the identification of data sources and data collection and/or data generation in prioritised emerging issues
  • evaluate the collected information and identify emerging risks.

The drivers of emerging risks may include population growth, globalisation, resource and energy scarcity, slowing agricultural productivity, increasing concentration of the supply chain, price volatility, changing diet trends and the emergence of anti-microbial resistant strands to name a few.

Since 2002, EFSA has taken a number of practical steps to assist with the identification of emerging risks, including:

  • develop a methodological framework
  • implement operational processes for emerging risk identification
  • identify and assess selected sources of information
  • develop and test tools to collect and filter relevant information.

Each year EFSA publishes a report detailing its strategy and activities on emerging risks in food and feed.

Future work

In 2020-2021 EFSA launched three pilot projects for identifying emerging risks related to the circular economy, food fraud, and new food/feed sources and production techniques. Together with partners interested in these topics, e.g. the Commission’s DGs SANTE, AGRI and JRC, the European Environment Agency, Europol, World Health Organization, the projects aim to explore the usefulness of various sources of information (scientific literature, media, patent databases, CORDIS, stakeholder engagement) for identifying, analysing and characterising possible emerging risks. They will run over the next few years.

Also in 2021, EFSA will hold a joint meeting of experts, stakeholders and the Commission to discuss the EU Green Deal and anticipate emerging risks for food/feed safety and the environment linked to ‘Farm To Fork’ targets for 2030.

Networks

Emerging risk identification is a complex process requiring broad expertise and close cooperation with Member States, stakeholders, and EU and international agencies. Dedicated networks provide the structures needed to exchange experience, methods and data and to assess emerging issues.

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