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Global food trade poses new challenges to consumer health protection

09/2016, 18.02.2016

The BfR organises an international symposium on "Risks along global food commodity chains" held in Berlin on 18 and 19 February 2016

Norovirus on imported strawberries, melamine additives in dairy products, or wrongly labelled olive oil - there has been an international dimension to such incidents for quite some time. How safe is our food given the globalised nature of food production, and what challenges does this pose for consumer health protection? At the symposium "Risks along global food commodity chains" organised by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BFR) and held in Berlin on 18 and 19 February 2016, experts will be discussing this and other questions. "For consumers, the increasing globalisation of the food trade means that almost any type of food can be consumed anywhere in the world at any time", says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. "However, the worldwide commodity chains can be confusing in some cases, and they pose entirely new challenges to consumer health protection. Together with our international partners we want to further intensify and promote our research and assessment work in this area."

The global food trade plays an important role for Germany. In the year 2014, Germany imported food and beverages worth Euro 75.5 billion. Approximately three quarters of these imports come from other European countries. However, imported foods from North and South America and Asia are becoming more and more important. The growing complexity and internationalisation of commodity chains which to an ever growing extent are characterised by network-like structures necessitate more and more extensive tasks for participating food and feed enterprises. Suitable procedures and systems need to be established to ensure the safety of the products despite the differing legal and structural frameworks across the globe. The competent public food safety agencies are faced with similar challenges, since they are mandated to assess and control the effectiveness of the measures and processes employed by companies.

The focus of the two-day BfR symposium is on the development of the increasingly complex global commodity chains over the last decade. Participating experts will discuss the requirements on various actors resulting from the worldwide trade, covering everything from primary agricultural production to on-site distribution and also potential new problems for public health. Another focal point of the conference are the concrete activities to ensure safe food and feed. In this context, the specific risks in the area of primary production (feed and livestock) and / or food production will be analysed as a basis for discussing intervention strategies to minimise potential health risks.

In addition, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) will, on the occasion of the symposium, present its work and proposed solutions in the area of global commodity chains. The research efforts of the BfR have focused, among other things, on the development of various software systems aiming to enable risk assessment even in complex circumstances. A further research focus is on new analytical approaches to guarantee the authenticity of foods. It is hoped that so-called goal-unspecific procedures will make it possible to record characteristic fingerprints of a food or feed and then to check these against a reference library. This should in future provide answers even to analytically complex questions such as the geographical origins of products.

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

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