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  • Timo HELLENBERG

Changing Tides of the European Security and Supply of Food



Food Safety and Food Security


The European Commission President von der Leyen  outlined the main priorities and flagship initiatives for the year to come at her State of the Union Address on 13.9.23, building on the European Union’s successes and achievements of the past years. Von Der Leyen stated that “food security, in harmony with nature, remains an essential task. She further stated that “self-sufficiency in food is also important for us. That is what our farmers provide..” 1.


As President Von Der Leyen stated, there are of course many remaining challenges in the security and supply of food also here in Europe. For instance, introducing sick or medicated animals unfit for human consumption into the food chain is a wide scale criminal business. Food chain ​​crimes are difficult to uncover, so they are considered relatively risk-free and profitable for their perpetrators. The number of food frauds is increasing worldwide, and frauds are also detected in the European Union Member States. Typical targets of fraud are indications of origin, date markings or contents of the food different from those indicated.

It is worth to note here that food safety and food security are two related but distinct concepts that are crucial in ensuring that people have access to safe and nutritious food.

Food safety refers to the measures and practices in place to ensure that food is safe for consumption, free from contaminants, and does not pose a risk to human health. Ensuring food safety involves a range of actions and precautions at various stages of the food supply chain, from production and processing to distribution and consumption.

Key aspects of food safety include:





Common food safety concerns include foodborne illnesses caused by bacteria (e.g. salmonella, E. coli), viruses (e.g., norovirus), parasites, chemical contaminants, and allergens. Ensuring food safety is essential to protect public health and consumer confidence in the food supply.

 

Food security, on the other hand, refers to the availability, access, and affordability of sufficient and nutritious food to meet the dietary needs and preferences of all individuals in a community, country, or region. Food security is a broader concept that encompasses not only the safety of food but also its availability and accessibility.


There are four main dimensions of food security:




Food security is influenced by various factors, including agricultural production, food distribution systems, income levels, social safety nets, and policies aimed at reducing poverty and ensuring equitable access to food. It is a global concern, and organizations like the United Nations have set goals to achieve food security for all.


To sum up, food safety focuses on the safety and quality of food products to protect human health, while food security addresses the broader issue of ensuring that everyone has access to an adequate and nutritious food supply. Both concepts are essential for the well-being of individuals and communities around the world.


During crises or exceptional situations food safety and security are issues which are regarded as vital functions of society. Moreover, they are corner pillars, which are essential to maintain the resilience of our modern societies.


New challenges continue to emerge in the realms of food safety and food security, driven by various factors such as globalization, climate change, technological advancements, and changes in consumer behavior. Here are some of the key challenges in each of these areas:


Challenges in the European Supply and Security

Globalization of the Food Supply Chain: As the food supply chain becomes more global, there is a greater risk of foodborne pathogens spreading across borders. Ensuring the safety of imported and exported food products is a growing challenge.

Emerging Pathogens and Contaminants: New foodborne pathogens and contaminants can emerge, requiring ongoing surveillance and research to identify and mitigate risks. Examples include novel strains of bacteria and chemical contaminants in food.


Food Fraud and Authenticity:

The mislabeling or adulteration of food products for economic gain is a significant concern. Detecting and preventing food fraud and ensuring the authenticity of food products is a complex challenge.

Antibiotic Resistance: The use of antibiotics in agriculture can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can affect food safety. Monitoring and regulating antibiotic use in livestock and aquaculture is crucial.

Digitalization and Supply Chain Transparency: While digital technologies can enhance supply chain transparency, they also introduce cybersecurity risks. Protecting data related to food safety and traceability is an emerging challenge.


Challenges in Food Security

Climate Change: Climate change is affecting food production through extreme weather events, changing precipitation patterns, and shifts in temperature. This can lead to crop failures and food shortages in vulnerable regions.


Conflict and Displacement: Armed conflicts and displacement of populations can disrupt food distribution and access, leading to acute food insecurity in conflict zones.


Economic Disparities: Income inequality and economic disparities can hinder access to nutritious food for marginalized populations. Addressing these disparities is essential for achieving food security.


Loss of Biodiversity: The loss of biodiversity in agriculture can reduce the resilience of food systems. Maintaining diverse crops and livestock breeds is crucial for food security.


Urbanization: Rapid urbanization can disrupt traditional food production and distribution systems, affecting food access for both urban and rural populations.


Water Scarcity: Water scarcity in many regions can impact agricultural production, affecting food security. Sustainable water management is essential.


To address these multiple and growing challenges above, governments, international organizations, and private sector stakeholders in the food industry must collaborate to implement policies, technologies, and practices that enhance food safety, ensure food security, and promote sustainability in food production and distribution. This includes strengthening regulatory frameworks, investing in research and innovation, promoting sustainable agriculture, and addressing the root causes of food insecurity.


At the same time, the popularity of organic production is growing. Both in fraud and in ensuring the organic authenticity of the food and  traceability of raw materials is key. This is now tested in Finland. The Finnish Food Authority can investigate the origin, composition and also organic authenticity. In addition to fraud, the Finnish system can be used to investigating other crimes in the food chain activity. Criminal activity can be a professional pursuit of financial gain and it can have dimensions far beyond the food industry.  Now these illegal activities have been tackled in an intensified manner in some Member States, such as in Finland where joint efforts by the Food Agency, Customs and other authorities are underway. The Finnish crime prevention team has compiled a national situational picture and the goal is that different localities know what is happening elsewhere and identify the same problems and even the same actors. Criminals do not know municipal boundaries. The Finnish group has mapped suspected crimes from 2018–2022, and so far about 300 have come to our attention. Of these, meat and meat products account for more than ten percent.


As a good model of international cooperation, the Internal Security Fund of the European Union has been (Grant Agreement No. 861643) funding the Mall CBRN project (https://mall-cbrn.uni.lodz.pl/) aiming at creating prevention, response and consequence management mechanisms and interoperable capabilities, recommendations for equipment as well as algorithms of cooperation with services in cases of exceptional acts in shopping centres. Among many results the Polish led project will produce best practices for prevention of food and countermeasure procedures in case of CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) events.


There are many ways to improve the safety of Europe’s food supply chains. But we need a shared knowledge, understanding and holistic view of threats and risks so that we can all contribute to ensuring Europe’s food security and self-sufficiency.

 

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