There are times when we are spoilt for choice picking food safety stories to post on Food Safety Watch. Space and time pressures can leave us having to omit items we might otherwise include. Then there are times when just finding enough stories to make an update worthwhile is a challenge – this week being a case in point. But it is a rare week when the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) doesn’t report or publish something worth mentioning. Indeed this week EFSA makes the news itself as it holds an important scientific conference to mark the occasion of its tenth birthday.
Thinking back to 2002 I can remember that many food industry insiders had concerns about the proposed Authority and how it would operate alongside existing national food safety agencies. Indeed there were some who doubted the need for such a body at all. Then there were the protracted discussions about where EFSA should establish its permanent headquarters. In the end, amid rumours of political horse-trading behind the scenes and despite some rather unkind observations on Finnish cuisine by Silvio Berlusconi, home became the city of Parma in Italy and EFSA set to work.
Since then, I think it is fair to say that the Authority has built a strong reputation for rigorous and impartial scientific analysis of food safety issues. What EFSA does best is risk assessment. It is able to call on panels of experts from all over the EU who have the knowledge and skills to sift through the evidence and make valid conclusions – and to recognise when a lack of evidence makes valid conclusions impossible. Anyone who has read any of the detailed ‘Scientific Opinions’ on various food safety hazards will know how thorough and authoritative they invariably are.
Of course EFSA isn’t perfect. Some would say it can be slow to react to emerging problems, takes too long to conduct assessments and can be lacking in flexibility. But given the resources available, I think most food safety professionals would agree that it does a pretty good job, and has established itself as a source of high quality scientific advice. EFSA has set the bar high, but will it be able to maintain the same standards for the next ten years? The current financial crisis in the Eurozone and growing pressures to cut public expenditure may present a bigger challenge than anything the Authority has yet faced.