DG Santé is the European Commission directorate with responsibility for food safety and health.
“We could have more food but less assurance that all of that is sufficiently safe,” said Ladislav Miko. “Nobody wants that, but we should be prepared for such a development.”
Miko made these comments while giving a keynote presentation to the Food Standards Agency’s ‘Our Food Future’ event in London last week (February 18).
To address these challenges, DG Santé initiated phase one of a scoping study several years ago to investigate what the future might look like. This work looked at the safety implications under several scenarios, said Miko. It examined the EU’s capacity to prevent the problems in the first place or react to crises that might occur, in the same way it was forced to do during the bovine spongiform encephalophy animal health crisis of the mid-1980s.
“We are now in the phase where in plant health we could have a similarly drastic impact of the crisis and we need to develop the system as well,” said Miko. “So, the question for us is: is the system fit for the future challenges?”
DG Santé wanted to know whether the regulatory system needed to be adapted to accommodate these future challenges, he said. One fear was that food security concerns might remove the focus on food safety, he added.
The results of the second phase of this work looked at potential futures – with four scenarios – which have just been published, Miko reported. “We were looking at the scenarios that were possible in order to be prepared,” he said.
The first scenario, called ‘global food’, basically considers the continuation of current trends.
The second scenario is quite different and envisages a ‘slow food world’ in which there is much more local production of food. While this takes account of new technological developments, these are only used to ensure the sustainability of resources, said Miko.
“In this scenario we identified plenty of problems with today’s regulatory framework,” he added. “We would have big difficulty to ensure the food safety levels as we have now in Europe.”
The third ‘transatlantic’ scenario predicts more sluggish economic growth, with greater collaboration between the EU and US. It assumes greater dependence on food science and technology. “In this situation we will have to accept more that is dictated from elsewhere than what we are able to influence directly,” he said.
Phood: food and pharma
The fourth ‘phood’ scenario envisages closer integration between food and pharmaceuticals, focusing primarily on the health impact of the food. “So pharma and food sectors will converge,” he said. “We assume that will be possible if the EU is a very strong player and we have a very strong research base.”
The regulatory environment would once again need to change under the last scenario, Miko added.
Considering the risks emerging from different scenarios, Miko suggested that should the food supply chain move towards more intensive agricultural production models, food safety systems would need to accommodate the greater use of agrochemicals, increased risk of antimicrobial resistance in animals and increased recycling of organic waste.
A similar review of food safety systems would be necessary if new protein sources, such as insects, were to become more widespread, he added. “This is not yet sufficiently looked at in the regulatory framework.”
The risk from the slow food scenario was “more unregulated food chains” – especially if consumers rejected modern agrifood technologies, he warned.
- ‘Global food’: continuation of current trends
- ‘Slow food world’: more local food production
- ‘Transatlantic’: sluggish growth in EU with more co-operation with the US and greater dependence of science and technology
- ‘Phood’: convergence between food and pharma, with a strong science base in the EU