Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

Promoting food safety through a new integrated risk analysis approach for foods

Final Report Summary - SAFE FOODS (Promoting food safety through a new integrated risk analysis approach for foods)

The ultimate aim of the SAFE FOODS project was to contribute to the restoration of consumer confidence concerning the quality and safety of food products. The major objective was to develop an improved governance framework for foods produced by different agricultural and food processing methods and practices which would mainly focus on changing the area of focus of decision making on food safety, namely consider food safety not as single risk but rather a baskets of risks, benefits and costs that are associated with their production and consumption.

The major outcome of the project was a new risk analysis approach for foods that integrated assessment of human health aspects, consumer preferences and values, as well as impact analysis of socio-economic aspects. The strength of the model was the transparent and novel way of risk identification and assessment using newly developed methods, and the inclusive way of risk management with active involvement of all stakeholders, taking a broad range of ethical, social and economic factors into account.

The project includes seven Work packages (WPs), the main objectives and achievements of which are stated in brief below:

WP1: Comparative safety evaluation of breeding approaches and production practices deploying high and low-input systems
The primary objective was to develop comparative safety assessment methods for foods produced by different breeding approaches and production practices. The analytical approaches were designed to take food analysis beyond the current state-of-the-art which focused on the measurement of key metabolites (nutrients and antinutrients). The methods selected were designed to facilitate large scale analysis of gene expression, protein expression and metabolite content using transcriptomic, proteomic and metabolomics techniques linked to relevant frameworks for the statistical analysis of data. These methods were used to assess sources of compositional variation in maize kernels and potato tubers as examples of important European crops.

In brief, this WP identified the major drivers of variation in gene, protein and metabolite expression and developed a framework approach for using profiling approaches within a risk assessment process. It also established a significant dataset that could be used as a focus to establish a benchmark to assist with broader comparisons using crop specific data from the international community.

WP2: Early detection of emerging risks associated with food and feed production
The main aim was to explore and develop methods and tools for the early identification of emerging hazards, with a particular focus on issues that might have been associated with the methods of agricultural production, namely high or low-input agricultural production systems.

WP3: Quantitative risk assessment of combined exposure to food contaminants and natural toxins
The work of this WP had three main aims regarding the improvement of the risk characterisation:
(i) development of an electronic platform of food consumption and residue databases all linked to probabilistic software via the internet;
(ii) development of a probabilistic integrated risk model in which exposure to compounds via food is directly linked to information on possible detrimental health effects;
(iii) the use of this model in situations where consumers were exposed simultaneously to more than one chemical and in which the risk manager had either to balance the effect of the risk (or benefit) of one compound against another or to consider cumulative effects of compounds with the same mode of action.

This WP mainly focused on the risk-benefit assessment stage of the SAFE FOODS risk analysis framework. This stage included the assessment of the health problem faced, including for example data collection and modelling of exposure / effect of both risks and benefits.

WP4: Consumer confidence in risk analysis practices regarding novel and conventional foods
The main purpose was to understand food risk management perceptions in Europe. A series of studies were conducted in different European Union (EU) Member States which attempted to identify the psychological determinants of good institutional food risk management.

Both WP4 and WP5 explored the social impact of food safety issues. Two papers related to the evaluation of social impact within SAFE FOODS were written, which also examined methodological aspects to assess social impact and risk-benefit perceptions of food safety issues. This cooperation allowed the assessment of social impact research from both health economics and consumer behaviour perspectives from WP4 in combination with the theoretical understanding from WP5 in terms of how wider social concerns connected with food safety issues should be assessed within the SAFE FOODS framework.

WP5: Investigation of the institutional challenges and solutions to systemic risk management
The main purpose of the research activities was to outline and explore some of the major challenges for EU food safety governance and relate them to potential procedural and institutional responses. The first phase of the research work was devoted to investigating some of the major recent institutional re-arrangements and efforts into procedural reform in European food safety regulation and sketching the legal and policy basis on which these changes and reform efforts build. The second phase of WP5 research was devoted to specifying certain issues that emerge as essential to the task of changing food safety governance to the better and to making suggestions for addressing these issues. The main product of the research activities was the 'General Framework for the Precautionary and Inclusive Governance of Food Safety in Europe'.

WP6: Design of a new integrated risk analysis approach for foods
This WP aimed at the integration of the outcomes of the different research tasks of SAFE FOODS into a new risk analysis approach for foods, produced by different breeding methods and production practices.

WP7: Dissemination and training
This WP focused on dissemination and training, both within the SAFE FOODS consortium with a particular emphasis on dissemination between the work packages, as well as outside the SAFE FOODS consortium to a diversity of stakeholder groups, both at the professional level and for the general public.