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Globally Traded Foods: How can the health and economic risks be reduced?

19/2013, 23.07.2013

Start of the research project "Zoonoses and Food Safety Along Global Supply Chains"

Not only exotic fruits and spices have a long journey behind them by the time they are put on sale in the supermarket. Due to competition and price pressure in the food markets, international trading channels for goods such as meat products have also become a matter of course in the meantime. Thanks to the free movement of goods in Europe and increasing imports from third countries, fresh challenges for food safety are being posed. "The monitoring systems for foods are very different in the countries they are produced in," says BfR President Prof. Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. "The manufacturers and importers must also guarantee the safety of imported food". In particular diseases which can be transferred to humans through pathogens in food can have far-reaching economic significance in addition to the health risk for consumers. Against this background, the research project "Zoonoses and Food Safety Along Global Supply Chains" (ZooGloW) began its work in July. Using the example of the goods flows for pork and poultry meat products, the possible damage scenarios for the coincidental contamination of foods with pathogens are analysed. Based on this, strategies for the avoidance of disease outbreaks and for actions and risk communication in the event of an outbreak are to be prepared. The collaborative research project is scheduled to run for three years and is being coordinated by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). The project partners are the Charité, the Institute for Public Management, the Thünen Institute and the Veterinary University in Hanover. The collaborative research project is being sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) within the scope of the federal government’s safety research programme.

The ZooGloW research programme focuses on pork and poultry meat products, the goods flows of which are fundamentally different. This means that the risks of unintentional introduction of infectious viruses, bacteria and parasites (zoonotic pathogens) via these foods also vary accordingly.

To start off with, the possible threats posed by the entry of zoonotic pathogens into the food chains are identified. To this end, the channels of the food from the original substance through production and transport to utilisation by the consumer are observed. It is also examined to what extent existing monitoring systems and corresponding legal regulations are capable of preventing foodborne disease outbreaks.

Building on this information, damage scenarios are modelled and new test methods and improved examination strategies developed.

Within the scope of economic analysis, the costs and benefits of expanded food monitoring are weighed up against the costs incurred by the national economy in the event of a crisis. The changed consumption behaviour of the population in the event of a disease outbreak due to food is also an aspect of the economic observation.

Consumers have a special need for information when a food crisis occurs. Against this background, an additional goal of the project is to prepare guidelines for risk communication specific to each target group.

The results of the research project are intended to help the responsible authorities to avoid disease outbreaks caused by food pathogens and initiate suitable measures to protect consumers in the event of an outbreak.

About the BfR

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). 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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