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Delivering an Effective, Resilient and Sustainable EU-China Food Safety Partnership

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - EU-China-Safe (Delivering an Effective, Resilient and Sustainable EU-China Food Safety Partnership)

Reporting period: 2020-09-01 to 2022-02-28

Over recent years, China has become the EU’s biggest source of imports and second most important export market. Bilateral EU-China trade has expanded and in 2021 this reached €650 billion despite the pandemic. In Europe and China, consumer trust in the food industry and regulatory authorities has been damaged by a large number of accidental and deliberate food contamination/adulteration incidents. The ability of EU companies to export to, and import from China, has been hampered by these safety, traceability, regulatory and fraud issues. Chinese companies trying to export to Europe face similar obstacles. Increasing demand and growing markets enhance the likelihood of food safety incidents and deliberate contamination, which in turn ruin consumer trust and undermine legitimate trade at domestic and international levels. Furthermore, laboratories in Europe and China are often working to different quality standards and using different analytical methods for producing data for certification/confirmation purposes, which can result in protracted trade disputes/embargoes.
There is a clear need for greater co-operation among those key actors within the EU and China, who are responsible for ensuring food safety, and preventing fraud, to accelerate the achievement of “mutual recognition” in food standards, testing, and certification.
Thus, there is a need to help build the core components of an EU-China food control system that integrates the five key elements of a food control system as described by the UN-FAO and the WHO: food control management, food legislation, food inspection, food control laboratories, and food safety and quality information, education and communication. The EU-China-Safe has fulfilled that need.

The specific objectives of EU-China-Safe included:
- To define a shared framework for harmonisation and visualisation of data that will enable convergence of standards and practices.
- To improve transparency in management of the food chain through the development of a digitised DNA system and innovative traceability tools.
- To develop new/improved food authenticity surveillance systems.
- To develop improved food safety systems and practices.
- To build confidence in EU-China trade by improved understanding of consumer practices and regulatory frameworks, the latter by developing and demonstrating mutual recognition of laboratory standards and results.
- To enhance EU-China co-operation and knowledge exchange through a series of joint initiatives on training and dissemination, in the area of assuring the integrity of exported and imported food.
EU-China-Safe comprised actors from public and private organizations, who had worked together to deliver a convergence of standards and practices between the EU and China, contribute to the development of international legislation, combat food fraud, and make food safer. A wide range of technical, societal and economic assessments were carried out, and a number of feasibility studies have been developed to support equivalency of results. Through twinning activities as well as establishing the EU-China (virtual) Reference Laboratory 2020 (RL2020) EU-China-Safe was able to identify, implement and showcase best practice. The project was able to demonstrate effective enhancements for supply chain management and security.

Data harmonization and visualization - has documented data collection, methods, procedures, sharing and archiving.

Food transparency and traceability - has explored various traceability techniques and technologies of several products moving between the EU and China, through two approaches: (a) DNA-based traceability and blockchain technology to provide provable provenance (b) Detection of inconsistencies in recorded claims by undertaking value chain mapping and analysis towards establishing the veracity of the claims for traceability systems.

Food authenticity - has dealt with bilateral knowledge transfer and implementation of methods to combat food fraud. It concerned detection methods for wine, dairy products, processed meats, organic fruits and vegetables products, and spices. State-of-the-art laboratory-based confirmatory methods and novel, portable on-site screening methods have been implemented.

Food safety - aimed at licensing, regulations, and innovative testing methods that might impact international trade. This work progressed through (a) A method for the analysis of chlorate residues in milk products. (b) A methodology for the analysis of the bound residues of eight banned nitrofurans, (including four new compounds). (c) An analytical test method for the analysis of antiviral drug residues in poultry muscle. (d) A multianalyte enzyme inhibition screening method for pesticide residues.

Building confidence and facilitating trade - has identified communication needs, expectations, perceived barriers, and facilitators to building trust and confidence, and on consumer views. Methods for file transfer and storage for the establishment of the RL2020 have been established. Work on case studies to examine the economic impact of food incidents has been performed, and two exercises have been made.

A dissemination and communication plan, as well as a training program for consortium members, external scientists and stakeholders were successfully implemented and delivered using various tools.
The project is laying the cornerstone of an EU-China food safety control system integrating food control management, food legislation, food inspection, food control laboratories, and food safety and quality information, education and communication. By innovating in each of these five domains, the project has developed a unique EU-China Joint Laboratory Network and has implemented feasibility studies allowing EU-China mutual recognition to be achieved. These studies determined how method harmonisation and data transfer can take place to lay the foundations for future large-scale integration. EU-China-Safe has delivered the environment for high level regulatory and scientific contacts and the means of developing trust between all stakeholders in food supply systems. Twinning activities have enabled substantial transfer of knowledge that will be further exploited by other organisations and stakeholder platforms.

High-level societal challenges have been addressed by the project.
- Boosting jobs, growth and investment: With China already the second largest market for EU agri-food products, the potential to grow this substantially will be greatly enhanced by having a harmonised food safety system in place.
- Strengthening the European industrial base: The potential to increase manufacturing through the export of high quality, high value agri-food products to China is substantial and having a harmonised food safety system and removing barriers to trade will be a major contributor to this.
- Empowerment of the global citizen: By developing a much safer and more transparent food supply system citizens of both Europe and China will be capable of a much better level of decision making about the food purchases.
- Europe as a stronger global actor: The EU has a strong foreign policy which is highly reflective and responds to global challenges. Having a safe and secure food supply system and working closely with China to develop such a harmonised system is of immense importance.
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