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European food safety system: Menu with food standards
Friday, 16 October, 2020, 16 : 00 PM [IST]
Laltu Sinha
During 1990s, the BSE or ‘mad cow’ crisis was a defining moment which emphasised on close link between animal health issues and food safety and highlighted the requirement of ‘farm to fork’ approach to protect public health.

Food safety is a process element considered in the preparation, handling and storage of food to prevent from foodborne injury or illness. From farm to factory to fork, food products may encounter various health hazards through the supply chain. Safe food handling procedures and practices are implemented at all stages of food production life cycle to curb risks and offer preventions against harm to consumers. The food system is becoming more globalised and ingredients are travelling in different continents before reaching the plates of consumers, along with the conventionality, food safety is becoming an international concern.

Who enforce food safety standards?
The international regulatory bodies provide guidance, auditing services and certification for global food manufacturers, although these bodies are not responsible for active enforcement of food safety laws. Every country has different regulatory bodies and establishes and defines their own safety laws and enforcement practices for food safety regulation.

Dealing in food products require clearance in compliance with the food safety and consumer protection laws from their source place and its regional governmental authorities. The International Food Safety standards are designed to facilitate compliance with food safety laws in major markets, which help to simplify the process of approval from foreign governmental regulators.

These principles are developed by different regional governments which enable operators to recognise points during the food production where accidents can take place (related to harmful microorganisms, equipment quality, packaging quality and chemical hazards with others). Principles are used in consideration to analyse the probability of those hazards, and set up controls and corrective measures to handle them, such as sampling the food to check microbiological criteria.

Food hygiene regulations offer a set of rules on good hygiene practice, and cover all the major aspects such as cleaning and disinfection, pest control, waste management and hygiene of the staff and transport.

Food System and other Sustainable Goals
In the recent years, the food system is gaining a huge limelight due to the impact of climate change and sustainability. The government across the world has set out a much greater emphasis to incentivise ‘public goods’ through farm payments, including focus on animal health and welfare and environmental improvements.

A secondary research has shown increasing consumer interest towards more sustainable and lower impact choices, although a major section struggles to do this. A new national food strategy has the potential to ensure an approach if the government is prepared to be ambitious.

In Europe, nearly 24 mn people become ill from foodborne contamination per year which is approximately 45 people in every minute are affected by poor food safety. From these, more than 4,500 cases are accounted for annual fatality.

In April 2018, the European Commission officially proposed a revision of the General Food Law Regulation (EC 178/2002) to boost the transparency of scientific studies in the food safety area with the major principles of food safety in the European Union.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), EU member states, and the European Commission recently launched a campaign called #EUandmyfood to promote the EU food safety system.

In the category of food safety, it was found that varying degrees of concern are present about specific topics among Europeans*; such as:
? ~40% of the European population is personally interested in food safety
? ~20% have main concern of food safety when choosing food
? ~50% ranked food safety in the top three criteria in food-purchasing decisions along with source of food, cost and taste, while nutrient content and ethical considerations are at lowest rank.
? ~65% have awareness related to steroid residues in meat, hormones and antibiotics.
? ~45% had heard of at least one food safety issue ranked it as a concern
? ~70% are aware of food additives, such as preservatives and colourants, but only 36% have real concerns about these additives.
? ~40% had some awareness of food safety topics included pesticide residues in food.
? ~37% had some awareness of food safety topics of environmental pollutants in fish, meat or dairy

Focus on Transparency in Food Regulation
European governments and related regulatory agencies are increasingly contributing to ramp up their efforts to promote transparency in food safety in the region.

In 2019, the European Commission came up with four-year fitness check of the General Food Law Regulation (GFL) to assess the progress level of fundamental food-related legislation of Europe. The results showed a positive result with major emphasis on improving EU-wide food safety, including the establishment of European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Covid-19 and food security in Europe
In the current scenario in the midst of tackling the Covid-19 pandemic, the United Kingdom faced initial food shortages as the country went into lockdown, which shows the degree of fragility of UK’s ‘just in time’ food supply chains. For major section, now the condition is stable, but not for vulnerable people who are facing financial difficulty or are struggling to physically get out and buy food.

It became an immediate priority to ensure more effective coordination and stable chain across the country and the different parts of the food sector with required interruption from the government to access food in an easy manner.

*A set amount of sample size of respondents is considered for a new Eurobarometer survey which was conducted by the European Food Safety Authority.

(The author is research director, BlueWeave Consulting. He can be contacted at laltusinha@blueweaveconsulting.com)
 
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