Eurostat Updates on EU Food Safety Policy

28 Jun 2010 --- The implementation of the EU food safety policy requires legislative action, the setting up of effective control systems over the full chain and the collection of data to measure food safety and the effectiveness of policies.

--- Food safety has become an increasingly relevant issue for society to which public administrations have to respond. At the level of the European Union, the European Commission's food safety policy aims for a high level of protection of human health and consumer's interests in relation to food, whilst ensuring the effective functioning of the internal market. Its guiding principle is an integrated "From farm to fork" approach covering all sectors of the food chain, including feed, primary agricultural production, food processing, storage, transport and retail sale.

The implementation of the EU food safety policy requires legislative action, the setting up of effective control systems over the full chain and the collection of data to measure food safety and the effectiveness of policies. This article takes a look at the EU data situation with regard to food safety and the efforts of Eurostat to improve it.

The need to measure European food safety has highlighted the necessity to have good quality data, and this was at the origin of the food safety statistics project. Its objective is to provide a framework for the quantitative evaluation of data on the safety of products used for human or animal consumption on the territory of the EU Member States, irrespective of whether these products are manufactured within the EU or imported.

The aim is to set up a reliable and regularly updated database to measure the status as well as changes over time on food safety in Europe. This database should cover all steps in the production-consumption chain, in line with the "From farm to fork" strategy.

Due to the wide scope of the project and the limited resources available in the countries, the Working group on food safety statistics, at its first meeting in April 2003, decided to concentrate on data already available and to analyze their relevance from a food safety perspective, rather than running new surveys at this stage. As the information and expertise on food safety issues is widely scattered and difficult to gather, it is very important to identify clearly which are the roles and responsibilities of each actor in order to co-ordinate the efforts in the most efficient way.

Following a first inventory made in 2003 some priority areas were defined:
• the products with distinctive marks;
• the food and feed control and monitoring activities;
• food consumption.

They have been analyzed in depth by mean of Task forces with the participation of experts from countries. A reflection group that met in June 2005 confirmed these priority areas for food safety statistics: 'the production chain', 'control and monitoring activities' and 'biological hazards'. It also identified three further priority areas not yet considered in 2003:
• human health related to food safety;
• consumer awareness;
• scientific advice.

The members of the Working Group on food safety statistics welcomed the creation of a database intended to provide a single and unique access to all the information related to food safety, to facilitate the analysis of the data and to allow tendencies to be studied. The first step – realised in 2005 – consisted of grouping and structuring all statistics available at Eurostat into a common data base 'FOOD', followed by the publication of a Eurostat Pocketbook 'Food: from farm to fork statistics' and several issues of 'Statistics in focus' treating this topic.

Eurostat set up a Task Force in 2004 with the objective of examining whether administrative data obtained from control and monitoring activities could be used for statistical purposes. Taking into consideration the complexity and wide scope of these activities the Task force, extended to a Technical Group with participation of all Member States continued its work since then.

The work focused on building a common glossary and a classification of control and monitoring activities and developing a database with data on monitoring intensity and on results of controls. Its objective is to provide a global overview of control and monitoring activities and their trends and concentrates on data where the harmonisation efforts are already made or under way.

The risk assessment on food safety requires individual data on intake of food and data on the occurrence of contaminants in food. Both elements contribute to the evaluation of the exposure of the population to certain hazards through food. The general requirement to have statistical data on food consumption in a sustainable and harmonized way led Eurostat to set up a Task force in 2005 to analyze it.

The Task Force set up in 2005, identified a wide range of needs for food consumption data and showed that the potential data sources not only fail to meet all requirements but also are not harmonized at EU level. The main conclusions were that there was not a unique data source to meet all demands and that it was necessary to distinguish the data required to monitor policies from the data essential to conduct scientific studies. It was agreed to focus on the collection of data to monitor policies, because the scope of the work was too wide. In 2007 the Task Force was convened again to design a limited number of indicators to monitor two of the policy needs: food safety and health and nutrition. The output of its work showed that the Household budget survey could be used to obtain those indicators related to health and nutrition.

A Task Force on "Human health issues related to food safety" was set up in 2007 with the objective to analyse the possibility to provide the general public with statistically reliable data on the health status of the EU population in relation to food safety. The target audience would be general users interested in the impact that food safety can have on public health. The final output of the Task Force was the identification of a "top-20" list of food safety related diseases for which it would be important to disseminate data at EU level. The data collection falls under the responsibility of the European Centre for Disease Control.

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