The first edition of the Non-Conventional Threat Food Supply Chain Security – A European Forum took place on the 23rd and 24th of October 2013 at Le Meridien Hotel in Brussels. The event was a wonderful opportunity for members of the Food Supply Chain Community to gather and address the main concerns of our modern day food supply chain.

The NCT Food Supply Chain Security- A European Forum, welcomed amongst others, members of the following institutions: the Food and Agriculture Office of the United Nations Liaison Office in Brussels, the Directorate-General for Health and Consumers (DG SANCO), the UK’s Food and Environment Research Agency and Food Standards Agency, the Universities of Rome and Turin as well as the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority.

Pre-conference workshop: Food Fraud – The Biggest Threat to Food Safety, Public Health and Brand Protection

Over the past years a significant number of food adulteration scandals have erupted as for example the recent scandal where horsemeat was found in prepared meals in Europe. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg; many cases have included for example intentional adulteration of olive oil or apple juice. This was the central theme of the pre-conference workshop led by Kelby Woodard, food adulteration and fraud expert, at INSCATECH.

Starting point of the workshop was the acknowledgment that food fraud generates additional costs for the food and drinks industry and is the source of significant public health hazards. In so countering, Woodard advocated that surveillance and monitoring of food from farm to fork is essential to off-set practices that include intentionally mislabelling, adulteration, and alteration of food and beverages for economic gain. This workshop was welcomed by the participants for the relevance of its content as well as the quality of its debates that enabled to explore different solutions for addressing the most pressing food fraud issues.

The conference:  from food security and safety to food defence

The conference was a rare opportunity for the participants to discuss a wide range of issues linked to the food supply chain. In view of the presence of many National, European and International experts; issues linked to the global food supply chain were addressed from many different vantage points ranging from food security and food safety to food defence.

The first session introduced past food safety incidents and carried on to highlight the lessons learned and their consequences. According to the keynote speaker from the FAO, Richard China, the Codex Alimentarius has been and will remain crucial to protect the health of consumers and secure food supply chains in the future.

In parallel, Jean-Luc Sion from the European Commission DG SANCO and Oliver Breuer form GIQS, stressed that food supply chain safety can significantly be enhanced through increased cross border cooperation. Consequently this would enable to share information, resources and hence contain and manage health threats in a more effective manner.

Furthermore, intentional food fraud is an integral part of food safety issues. It aims at immediate economic gain by substituting a product’s component by a cheaper one for immediate economic gains. A number of speakers put forward the necessity to strengthen traceability and product transparency to deal with food fraud. Paul Brereton, Head of Agrifood Research at the UK Food and Environment Research Agency, also advocated for the development of technological solutions that would improve identification of threats, adulteration and mislabelled food.

Adulteration of products in the food supply chain can also be driven by the intent to inflict health hazards to consumers. Indeed, in the second session participants and speakers discussed the state of food safety in Europe and the requirements for the future through the lens of criminal contamination of the food supply chain. Food industries and governments are increasingly voicing their concern about the risks of contamination of the food supply chain with chemicals or any other substances for criminal and terrorist purposes. In the United States and the United Kingdom governments have been addressing this issue through food defence strategies. On the other hand, in the rest of Europe this topic remains of significantly low priority.

Alongside, the criminal contamination of the food supply chain by chemicals or other substances, the intentional or accidental introduction, outbreak and spread of plant pathogens could also cause irreparable environmental damages and consumer health hazards. Therefore, crop and food biosecurity are likewise of increasing concern, according to Paola Colla from Agroinnova.

Thus, efforts have to be made to identify hazardous raw materials and develop accurate means for market surveillance and monitoring. In addition, Paul Beuger of the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority and Dr Lourens Heres, Manager R&D Food Safety at VION Food Group Netherlands, share the view that governments have to step-up/enhance capabilities to adequately assess and manage risks in the event of a major health threats.

Finally, Beate Kettlitz, Director Food Policy, Science and R&D at FoodDrink Europe concluded by stating that industries alongside government authorities also play a crucial role in improving the safety of the food supply chain. Industries and public health authorities are to work hand in hand if they want to tackle present and future food safety issues.

 

IB Consultancy would like to thank all the speakers for their presentations and for sharing their knowledge and expertise; and the participants for their active involvement and valuable contributions in the workshop and the conference.