Brussels, 04 Jul 2003
The European Union is committed to ensuring that consumers get the very best food. An upcoming event will outline European scientific efforts to secure the EU food chain - from the farm to the fork.
In September, the European Commission will hold a special conference entitled 'Science and security in the EU food chain' and showcasing EU research efforts to ensure food safety and quality. "Food safety is an important issue for every European," says Michel Claessens of Research DG's information and communication unit. "This event will go some way towards showing the constraints but, more importantly, the huge improvements that have been made."
Society is living in something of a food paradox. Increasingly rigorous high-tech quality control standards have not led necessarily to a decline in food scares. Indeed, the past decade has seen an alarming rise in such alerts. 'Mad Cow' disease (BSE), dioxin, salmonella and others have shaken consumer confidence.
Scientific progress has been unable to prevent completely these contaminations from getting into our food. The problem stems from the growing consolidation of the production and distribution chain, which means that if a contaminant creeps into one part of the chain it can potentially spread at an alarming rate before it can be stopped.
Fork in the road
In early 2002, the Pan-European Conference on Food Safety and Quality concluded that Europe has a good system of detection. However, the great diversity of European policies and regulations, coupled with lack of co-operation between the national authorities, are weak links in the system, it noted.
But European leaders have not been standing still and have initiated wide-ranging reforms to help protect the health and safety of Europe's citizens by ensuring the integrity and security of the food chain. Among the achievements was the creation last year of the independent European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Sound science is an essential element of food research. The European Commission is redoubling its research efforts in this important field under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). Support for projects will focus on minimising health risks along the entire production and distribution chain.
Another important aspect that the Commission wants to encourage is informed public debate of the issues surrounding this important field. It hopes to achieve this by stimulating better communication between the scientific community and society at large.