Guest Blog: Risk-Free Eating In The EU: It’s Promise Time

It’s not only US-based politicians and bureaucrats who have the hubris to proclaim that “we have the world’s safest food supply.” The European Union is not immune from making equally absurd and unsubstantiated claims.

The following Guest Blog first appeared on Le Blog d’Albert Amgar under the title “Une alimentation sans danger dans l’UE: le temps des promesses” and is reproduced here in English translation with the kind permission of its author, Albert Amgar.

Risk-Free Eating In The EU: It’s Promise Time

by Albert Amgar
(translation by Phyllis Entis)

The EU communiqué announcing the release of the RASFF 2011 Annual Report is quite a joke. Consider the title of the communiqué, “Food: Latest Report shows EU Controls ensure our food is safe.”

For starters, the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy makes the following statement, which cannot be verified, insofar as such comparisons are impossible to measure: “European consumers enjoy the highest food safety standards in the world.”

Those German consumers who became ill or died in 2011 would appreciate that!

What to make of this type of statement: “In 2011, we dealt with a number of important crises such as the effects of the Fukushima nuclear incident, the dioxin and the E. coli crisis.” The “important crisis” was that many sushi-lovers believed that these products were imported from Japan and stopped patronizing these establishments! See “Why Japanese restaurants have fallen out of favor”/Pourquoi les restaurants japonais n’ont plus la cote?

Did food safety hazards nevertheless present a risk to consumers?

E. coli in fenugreek sprouts was responsible for 3842 illnesses and 55 deaths in Germany; in France, the Bordeaux episode caused 24 cases of infection.

An EU Commission Staff Working Document enumerated several important lessons learned from the 2011 crisis, among which are:

  • improving the RASFF by launching iRASFF, an on-line notification platform that will enable RASFF to operate with greater speed and effectiveness than ever before;
  • review operational procedures for crisis management to ensure adequate  flexibility;
  • review the regulations relating to traceability to find hazardous products and remove them from the marketplace faster and more effectively;
  • organize, in conjunction with major trading partners and in cooperation with the European Food Safety Agency and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, specialized training on the investigation of food-borne diseases and outbreak management, as well as improvement of hygiene in primary food production [via the EU program “Better Training for Safer Food”]
  • develop specific regulations for seeds and the production of sprouts;
  • improve the coordination and clarity of communication during a crisis.

A few simple observations:

  • It is very nice to discover that i-notification exists – in 2012!
  • It is not necessary to review the traceability regulations – just to ensure that everyone follows the regulations that already are on the books.
  • Regarding the development of regulations for seeds and the production of sprouts, I share the thoughts of Richard Lawley, in his article “Can seed sprouts be made safe?” Yes, without a doubt, but only by cooking.

As for improving the coordination of communication during periods of crisis, it seems to me that Europe has already demonstrated that it’s everyone for himself.

About Albert Amgar: Albert Amgar lives in Paris, France. He worked as a young scientist at the Parasitology and Tropical Medicine Service of the Pitié Salpétrière Hospital and later spent 12 years in the pharmaceutical industry. In 1989, he became director of a new association of agro-food industrialists named ASEPT in Laval (France). He was the general manager of ASEPT until his retirement.

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