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Security first in Europe

Photo: All rights reserved © Monika Wisniewska  - shutterstock.com

The EU ensures the security of its citizens across a wide swath of activities, from civil protection against natural hazards to the protection of their food chain.  Guarding against chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) hazards is an especially important focus of the EU’s Security Research programme, which will also boost Europe’s industrial competitiveness.

The severe earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 that caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster has refocused public attention across the globe on the issue of nuclear and other natural and man-made hazards.

Research is a crucial tool to improve how we deal with nuclear and radiological incidents. For this reason, the EU finances CBRNE research since incidents in this area – though rare – can have a huge potential impact.

In November 2010, the European Commission organised a high-level workshop focused on pertinent CBRNE issues. The gathering concluded that Europe’s CBRNE stakeholder community benefits greatly from cooperating and sharing CBRNE-related information and resources – and that they should continue working closely with end-users.

A second workshop on CBRNE in June 2011 highlighted the importance of security technology demonstration projects in this sector. One example is the project known as “Demonstration of Counter-Terrorism System-of-Systems against CBRNE phase 1” (DECOTESSC1). It is developing a roadmap for a demonstration of a consistent portfolio of countermeasures – from prevention to response and recovery – for CBRNE hazards linked to terrorism.

Underwriting the food chain

Another important security goal is to ensure the safety and security of the food we consume. Given the cross-border nature of Europe’s complex food supply chain, the EU has been pursuing an integrated ‘farm to fork’ approach. This seeks the highest level of food safety and quality, animal health, animal welfare and plant health, while assuring the effective functioning of the Single Market.

This is achieved through a mix of legislative measures, strict monitoring and reporting and a coordinated management of the Union’s trade relations with third countries.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) carries out food and animal feed safety risk assessments at EU level. It works closely with national authorities, while consulting widely with stakeholders to provide independent scientific advice and clear communication on existing and emerging risks in the agro-food sector.

The importance of fast and effective action in this area was dramatically highlighted by the recent outbreak of a deadly strain of the E. coli bacteria in Germany, which quickly spread across the country and to other parts of Europe. The outbreak infected nearly 4 000 people and caused around 50 deaths.

Despite this significant toll, the situation could have been far worse had it not been for the timely reaction of German and European authorities. Each EU Member State has a well-established structure in place to deal with food and other health scares. In addition, the European Union's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) was immediately set in motion after Germany’s E. coli outbreak to inform the 27 Member States about initially suspected and then confirmed sources of the outbreak, and to recommend action to avoid further contamination.

Some high-tech scientific sleuthing by German investigators, backed by the EU’s Reference Laboratory for Escherichia coli in Rome, meant that the source of the outbreak was eventually traced to an organic farm in Lower Saxonypdf Choose translations of the previous link . But investigators did not stop there. In July, EFSA further reported that the E. colistrain in Lower Saxony originated from seed imported from Egypt.

Food for action

As knowledge is a vital tool in the fight against food- and feed-related risks, the Union’s Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7) funds numerous collaborative research projects in this fieldpdf.

One example is the network-of-excellence (NoE) project called “Plant and Food Biosecurity”, which received €6 million in EU funding. Known as PlantFoodSec and launched in February 2011, this five-year effort seeks to improve the quality and impact of plant and food biosecurity training and research in Europe, and how to deal with the possible use of plant pathogens as biological weapons against crops.

PlantFoodSec will help safeguarding animal and plant welfare, while protecting the environment. For European farmers and the food and drink industry, the increased biosecurity promoted by the network should help them to avoid the damaging impact of contaminations and other scares on their sales and credibility.

PlantFoodSec’s activities include the creation of a virtual centre of competence to bring together specialists from a wide range of countries, the promotion of exchanges of expertise and knowledge, and the development of new ideas via its online platform.

The project’s research deliverables include tools for counteracting and responding to the spread of plant pathogens, more effective means of dealing with the health implications of food-borne pathogens, improved disease surveillance detection systems, and spatio-temporal risk models.

All about security

The European Union faces a number of common security threats which require a coordinated European approach. These include combating terrorism and organised crime, coping effectively with natural and man-made disasters, and dealing with possible disruptions to its economic infrastructure such as transport, energy and information networks.

Beyond EU legislation and cooperation among the 27, the EU also funds a broad range of security-related research which can enhance the safety and welfare of citizens, as well as the competitiveness of industry.

Given the growing importance of security, FP7 is the first EU funding programme to include a specific security research programme, with a budget of €1.4-billion. Focused exclusively on civil applications, the security theme is developing the needed technologies and knowledge to protect the EU’s citizens, while respecting their privacy and other fundamental rights. It also seeks to boost the competitiveness of the European security industry, while delivering targeted research results to public end-users to reduce security gaps.

In recognition of the innovative potential of small and medium-sized enterprises and in pursuit of the ‘Think small first’ principle, the security research programme supports co-operation between SMEs from different countries. The research themes it funds include increasing the security of citizens infrastructure and utilities; intelligent surveillance and border security; and restoring security and safety in the wake of crises.

At its halfway stage, FP7 had already funded more than 130 research projects. The European Commission has released a catalogue of FP7-funded security success storiespdf.

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