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Talk with the Expert : Dr. Edward BRAY from EFSA

Interview with a representative of the european agency EFSA, Dr. Edward BRAY
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Dr. BRAY, thanks for accepting this interview.  Can you tell us about EFSA’s main activities?   And some important achievements in recent years ? EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority, is  an EU agency that was set up in 2002 to provide   scientific advice on risks along the food chain.  EFSA’s advice helps inform the decisions taken   by legislators such as whether to authorize  new pesticides or food additives for example.   EFSA advises on a wide range of  issues such as contaminants in food,   food-borne diseases, animal diseases  but also nutrition and animal welfare.   We carry out all this work in view of our  main goal – the protection of consumers.
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One big achievement is that EU regulations  on food safety and hygiene practices   have significantly improved the  health of its citizens over the years.   Take Salmonella for example, a bacteria that  causes many cases of food poisoning every year.   Coordinated actions and monitoring  by the EU, EFSA and EU Member States   and better food hygiene has led to  a significant reduction in cases. Can you tell us how EFSA works ? Who actually  takes decisions ? Are scientists (chemists,   biologists… ) REALLY listened to  ? Or is this all bureaucracy ? We have a staff of around 450, based in Parma,  Italy.
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EFSA also works closely with external   scientific experts, with the EU institutions,  Member State authorities and stakeholders.   EFSA has 10 Panels of experts, each dedicated  to a different area of the food chain. A   Scientific Committee works on developing  new methodologies for risk assessment. EFSA works as an independent scientific  advisor for the European Commission,   the European Parliament and EU Member  States. who are the ones responsible   for taking all the decisions. They also have  to consider other aspects such as societal,   ethical and economic concerns  which are outside EFSA’s remit. Does EFSA carry out research ? I mean,  you have labs, chemists and biologists   to do analysis and research for  your purposes ? Or do you rely on   outsourcing ?
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Can you estimate the cost of  doing tests for foodsafety ? And who pays ? No. We don’t do research or testing ourselves.  We don’t have any laboratories at EFSA. What we   do is to assess all the available data which we  use as a basis to provide our scientific advice.   If data is lacking, we highlight these  data gaps to the legislators and request   more information. In Europe, we have a system  that requires businesses to cover all the costs   for testing any new food products such as food  additives that they want to put on the market.
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Food companies have the impression of being  targeted, as if all the problems come from   us. I think this is driven by public  opinion… We do our best to follow rules,   but we also need to trust packaging companies  and the primary food producers. Can EFSA assure   us that there is NO opinion-driven anger against  us, but rather searching for solutions together ? EFSA’s role is to provide  independent scientific advice.   Our concern is the protection of consumers  from any possible food-related risks.   The interests of various parties including  industry but also consumer groups are taken   into account when the EU legislators take  their final decisions. They must weigh up   different interests and take into account  many factors including societal concerns.
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I hate to ask this, but .. are there are  ways that food companies can “get around”   the rules on food safety ? Consumers  like me need to fully trust someone,   and sometimes we are confused  about who really cares about us. The EU has one of the most comprehensive set of  food safety rules of any region around the world.   It’s also one of the reasons  why European food is acclaimed.   EU Member State authorities are responsible for  ensuring that the rules are enforced properly and   for taking action against businesses  if they do not follow the rules.   We also have a system in Europe that allows  Member States to rapidly share information   if they highlight a risk from a  product that may be on the shelves.   This allows them to take immediate action to trace  and withdraw any such products from the market.
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Does EFSA ensure that citizens are aware and  informed ? I mean, not only to have infos   on the web, but really you must GO TO THE  people and explain to them your activities.   In a way that all can understand.  This will increase public confidence … Communicating our scientific advice is in  our founding regulation. This is why we spend   significant time and resources on communication.  Reaching citizens in 27 different Member States,   each with different priorities and  concerns, is not an easy task however.   It’s an area we are looking to improve on  in the future by running campaigns to raise   awareness on specific issues, by targeting our  messages and by engaging more with the public   to listen and respond to their concerns.
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Better  communication is also a way to fight fake news   and counter conspiracy theories, which can  undermine trust in public health bodies.
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Finally, is there a message you  want to leave to our students ? Yes, I’d like a few words on how  climate change may affect food safety  Climate change has the potential to impact all  areas of EFSA’s remit. Think for instance about  
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changes to rainfall: warmer and wetter weather  can lead to moulds in food crops that produce   harmful mycotoxins. Another example is the  spread of new pests affecting plant health   and animal diseases. EFSA tackles these  new challenges by developing methodologies   to identify emerging risks  and strategies to combat them.   It requires collaboration between scientists  across many different disciplines.

In this interview you will have a unique chance to listen to a top representative of the European Food Safety Autority (EFSA), Dr. Edward Bray. In his talk, Dr. BRAY illustrates and discusses the activities of EFSA with great competence, and will focus on the issues of chemicals, packaging and food safety. His words will reassure all of us of the difficult and important work that monitoring and consulting agencies do for our safety and heatlh. Don’t miss this great interview.

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Consumer and Environmental Safety: Food Packaging and Kitchenware

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