Health and diet are important factors for many Europeans when doing their weekly shopping: safe, nutritious and affordable food is top of their list. Food labels have become a pivotal part of the consumer shopping experience, and there is heightened interest in the process from farm to fork, in all aspects of the food chain. Indeed, significant changes have taken place in food safety within the last 10 years since the arrival of the General Food Law, which laid down the fundamental principles for food safety in Europe. It also illustrated a defining moment in food safety where the European Union used a science-based approach as the way forward.
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Important food safety areas have been addressed over the last 10 years: the limitation of exposure to pesticides, the setting of safe levels of their residues and the evaluation of food and feed additives. As a result, European consumers can feel safe in the knowledge that the nutrition or health claims on their food labels have a sound scientific basis.
EU food safety policy has also evolved and adapted to ongoing changes and investment in research and innovation: developing better ways of assuring microbiological and chemical food safety, identifying alternative sources of protein and developing innovative new processes to economise on energy, water and packaging.
An event was held in the presence of international food experts to mark the 10th anniversary of the General Food Law and the establishment of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) by the European Commission. Titled 'Ready for the challenges of tomorrow', the event reviewed the main achievements of the past decade and the challenges to be faced in the future.
It was acknowledged that the successes of the past 10 years were made possible by the decision taken in 2002 to separate risk management from risk assessment, and to place science centre stage in food policymaking. Cooperation on food safety issues has increased, and networks are now in place across Europe to share scientific information and coordinate communication activities, rapidly if needed, in response to any kind of emergency.
Experts at the event provided their thoughts on the main achievements of the EFSA, which included making food safer sooner, strengthening the EU’s ability to deal with food crises swiftly and effectively, increasing cooperation with and among Member States, and finally, establishing a culture of trust between risk assessors and risk managers in support of science-based policymaking.
But there were also future challenges identified: to better understand the public’s perception of risk and make communications more accessible, particularly given the rise of social media and 'viral' web stories; to ensure continued access to the best scientific experts; and to boost risk assessment capacity in the EU.
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