New EU-funded Security Research project organises virtual training and prevention against infiltration of Europe’s food chain
Food production in a technologically advanced region such as Europe depends not only on tightly inter-linked production and distribution networks but a high level of public confidence that edible products are safe. It only takes one food safety oversight – or threat – to bring the whole system quickly to a halt. Rapid-fire detection, surveillance and counter-measure action is central to keeping our food chains safe and healthy.
Protecting Europe’s complex “farm-to-fork” production chain from haphazard or deliberately introduced pathogens and pests is behind the new project funded by the European Commission’s Security Research budget, entitled “Plant and Food BioSecurity” (PlantFoodSec).
Launched in February 2011 with EU support of EUR 6 million, PlantFoodSec is a so-called “network of excellence” project whose goal is to foster cross-border research synergies by knitting together networks of experts to achieve richer scientific results. PlantFoodSec will thus implement a “virtual centre of competence” to boost the quality and effectiveness of biosecurity training and research in Europe.
Biosecurity as a field of research is relatively new in Europe, which partly lies behind the reason why PlantFoodSec’s network will draw on expertise from other regions of the globe where the security challenges to food production chains have been studied longer. Its research consortium of 13 partners from three continents includes researchers from the United States, Israel and of course across the EU.
PlantFoodSec will build on the research results of previous EU projects that have investigated other bio-security aspects of the food chain while extending their networks-of-excellence to scientific communities beyond Europe.
The project’s main research objectives are to:
- improve disease surveillance and detection systems by tightening international cooperation among laboratories and creating new diagnostic tools
- help prevent the use or spread of deliberately-introduced pathogens into the farm-to-fork production chain
- assess forensic techniques for tracing mycotoxins and human pathogens on plants to enhance prevention, response or recovery from food-borne illnesses
- build a strong “culture of awareness” about biosecurity issues across all sectors of agriculture and food production via multi-sector and cross-border training
In brief, PlantfoodSec is aiming high: to minimise biological threats at any stage in Europe’s food supply chain. Not surprisingly, its main end-users will be national and EU-level authorities responsible for plant – and ultimately European consumer – health.
By combining modern modelling and foresight techniques with conventional plant health risk analysis – and harnessing these to the real-time distributive powers of the internet – PlantfoodSec will help ensure that Europe’s dinner table continues to remain as safe as it is rich in tradition and diversity.
For details about this new Security Research project, see: www.plantfoodsec.eu