The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) launched its National Roadmap for Consumer Protection in Relation to Food Safety 2019-2023, at an event in Science Gallery Dublin on 5 February 2019. Now a critical agency in an EU-wide rapid alert system for monitoring, notifying and reacting swiftly to food safety issues, the FSAI was established in 1999 in the wake of the BSE crisis and was Europe’s first independent regulatory agency with responsibility for food safety. The event was also an opportunity to mark the organisation’s 20th anniversary by revealing new research which provides an insight into consumer attitudes to food safety, and announcing the development of next-generation DNA sequencing technology that will enhance regulators’ ability to fight food fraud by allowing the entire genetic content of a food to be revealed without any prior knowledge or suspicion of what may or may not be present in that food.
The FSAI’s new strategy centres on four key goals built around its key areas of activity, namely:
- Enforcement and compliance
- Science, expertise and evidence
- Communication and engagement
- Organisational excellence
The strategy sets out further goals to protect consumers of Irish food at home and abroad. There are increasing compliance requirements especially relating to food businesses, but also the promise of enhanced collaboration with the scientific community to ensure national policy protects public health.
Welcoming the publication of the FSAI Strategy 2019-2023, the Minister of State with responsibility for Health Promotion, Catherine Byrne TD, said:
“2019 marks twenty years of tireless work by the FSAI in promoting food safety and protecting public health. I am confident that through their new five year strategy, they will continue to build on this work, protecting the consumer and strengthening Ireland’s position as a leader in food safety and integrity.”
Developed in collaboration with a number of labs including the Irish diagnostics company IdentiGEN, the new DNA scanning test will be put to work in a dynamic food system characterised by unprecedented innovation, highly-sophisticated supply chains, and the increased regulatory demands brought about by possible regulatory divergence as a result of Brexit.
The tool has successfully detected adulteration of plant ingredients, and is likely to rolled-out in testing beef and poultry across the EU. With the availability of certain information on the specific sample tested, it was also able to detect food allergens and genetically modified organisms, and expose mislabelling of fish products.
While the FSAI works to ensure it is resilient in responding to related outbreaks and contamination, it also has responsibilities in assuring the public on the authenticity and integrity of foods and food supplements. The development of this technology is of particular significance in light of the introduction of the New Official Controls Regulation 2017/625, which contains a new emphasis on food fraud and the protection of consumers against unfair trade and risks of being misled, as well as enhanced powers of competent authorities to perform official controls on samples ordered online.
The FSAI also revealed findings from a national survey undertaken by Amárach in November 2018 designed to capture consumer attitudes on food safety and hygiene, shopping habits and eating out, and concerns about food and the food industry. Results demonstrate that there is confidence in the safety of Irish food with nine out of ten people (89%) saying food is as safe or safer than it was five years ago. However, consumers also admitted that they themselves are prone to risky behaviours in relation to food handling at home with nearly half of those surveyed (45%) saying they do not pay full attention to ‘use-by’ dates, and seven out of ten (72%) claiming that they have used food past its ‘use-by’ date. Just over 6 in 10 (62%) said they left leftovers to cool out of the fridge overnight, to eat in the next couple of days, with nearly half (49%) storing food in the fridge without any wrapping. A growing reliance on convenience food was also apparent, with eight out of ten people (84%) stating that they buy ready-to-eat or pre-prepared food from the supermarket, with over one third (36%) buying at least weekly or more frequently.
According to Dr Pamela Byrne, CEO, FSAI the research undertaken will assist to inform and feed into wider thinking of its corporate strategy and enable it to verify its overall objectives and timing of actions.
“Our new strategy set outs the FSAI’s direction over the next five years to continue to be an effective state agency putting consumer health protection at the centre of all our activities. It incorporates a modern approach using collaboration with our partners, along with the best available science and evidence to deliver robust, proportionate and fair enforcement of the regulations. How and where we get our food is constantly changing with many factors impacting on food safety. Our strategy outlines our ambition, clear priorities and actions so that we are ready to adapt, always evolving and regulating swiftly within a rapidly changing food environment. It’s an exciting new roadmap for one of Europe’s first food safety regulatory agencies as we celebrate our 20th year. It will enable us to continue to build our reputation worldwide as a leading food safety regulator where swift adaption and response to changes in the external environment has shaped a progressive regulator.”
Ireland has been ranked internationally as having a leading food safety system having been identified as one of the highest performing food safety systems amongst 17 OECD countries in a 2014 Report of the Conference Board of Canada.
Describing food production as “a fragile ecosystem” constantly challenged by new threats, Dr Byrne made clear that the FSAI wants to be recognised as “one of the best systems in the world, with evidence to back it.”
To view the full National Roadmap for Consumer Protection in Relation to Food Safety 2019-2023 Strategy
, click here.