The European Commission (EC) has said public perception of risk in the food supply chain is a challenge for future food safety policymaking in Europe, as it reflects on the past ten years of food safety policy across the bloc.
The EC’s Community Research and Development Information Service said that there have been significant advances in food safety over the past ten years, since the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was established and the General Food Law was introduced in 2002, setting out the main principles for food safety in Europe. It said this was a major milestone, from which point the EU was clearly committed to using a science-based approach to food safety.
However, it also identified future challenges, including better understanding of the public’s perception of risk, especially in light of social media and ‘viral’ news stories, which can rapidly spread information – and misinformation.
Other challenges for the agency include making communications more accessible, ensuring continued access to the best scientific experts, and boosting risk assessment capacity in the EU, it said.
Speaking at EFSA’s tenth anniversary conference in Parma in November, chief scientific adviser of the European Commission, Professor Anne Glover, said that decision-makers are not always rational in their risk assessment, and different countries often come to opposite conclusions, even when presented with the same evidence.
Glover has less than two years left in her position, but she said that during that time she intended to continue to push for better communication and change among MEPs on the interpretation of scientific evidence.
As for the main achievements of EFSA over the past ten years, the EC cited faster response to foodborne illness outbreaks and food contamination, increasing cooperation with and among Member States, and establishing a culture of trust between risk assessors and risk managers in support of science-based policymaking.
“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,” it said.