The third edition of our “Plant health policy at a glance” blog series focuses on the vital role of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in the fight against ToBRFV and ToLCNDV in tomatoes and cucurbits.
What is the EFSA?
The European Food Safety Authority is an EU agency that provides independent scientific advice and communicates on existing and emerging food-related risks. Set up in 2002, its headquarters are located in Parma, Italy, with a total staff of 542 people. EFSA’s scientific advice helps EU policymakers (i.e. the Council, the Parliament and the Commission) take effective and timely risk management decisions, to protect citizens from risks in the food chain. It also provides the scientific basis for EU rules and laws to ensure food safety from farm to fork. The mandate of EFSA covers all matters with a direct or indirect impact on food and feed safety, including:
- Plant health
- Plant protection
- Animal health and welfare
EFSA’s work further involves:
- Gathering scientific data and expertise
- Providing independent, up-to-date scientific advice on food safety issues
- Communicating its scientific work to the public
- Cooperating with EU countries, international bodies, and other stakeholders
- Boosting trust in the EU’s food safety system by providing dependable advice
The governance mechanisms of EFSA
The governance of EFSA is built on several pillars. Firstly, the management board governs EFSA, with its members mandated to act in the public interest. The management board members include representatives from all EU Member States, civil society, the food chain, the Commission, the Parliament and EFTA countries. Secondly, the executive director and the management team ensure the day-to-day operation of the agency. Thirdly, the EFSA Advisory Forum gathers national food safety authorities from EU and EFTA countries. Fourthly, the focal points act as interface between EFSA and national food safety authorities, research institutes and other stakeholders. Finally, the scientific backbone of EFSA’s work are the scientific committee and the scientific panels. The scientific committee develops harmonised risk assessment methodologies on horizontal scientific matters in the fields within EFSA’s remit where EU-wide approaches are not already defined. The scientific panels are at the heart of EFSA’s scientific work. These panels, composed of experts, are responsible for the bulk of EFSA’s assessments. Each of its 10 panels is dedicated to a different area of the food and feed chain.
How EFSA supports plant health policies
EFSA’s panel on plant health provides provides independent scientific advice on the risk posed by plant pests for plants, plant products or biodiversity in the EU. The Panel reviews and assesses those risks with regard to the safety and security of the food chain. It further conducts pest risk assessments by using a wide range of specialist expertise and up-to-date knowledge in to provide scientific advice to the Commission. The EFSA panel on plant health consists of European scientists with expertise ranging from IPM, biological control, plant pathology, plant disease epidemiology and management to weed science. These are all areas relevant to VIRTIGATION and its focus on tackling ToBRFV and ToLCNDV in tomatoes and cucurbits.
Additionally, EFSA has also established a scientific panel on plant protection products and their residues. This panel provides scientific advice on the risk assessment of pesticides for operators, workers, consumers and the environment. Furthermore, it develops and reviews guidance documents on the risk assessment of pesticides. This work also supports EFSA’s evaluation of active substances used in pesticides. The EFSA panel on plant protection products and their residues consists of European scientists from fields such as ecotoxicology or ecology and population dynamics. EFSA publishes its scientific outputs in an own open access, online scientific journal, the EFSA journal. Scientific publications mainly cover risk assessments in relation to EFSA’s mandate.
A multifaceted and citizen-oriented organization
EFSA’s efforts are not only supporting EU and national policymakers in managing public health issues and authorising the use of food and feed products. EFSA also plays a key role in furthering food safety and plant health policies across the globe. For this, it has developed close collaborations with food agencies and international organisations worldwide. EFSA supports the EU in honoring its international commitments to uphold the UN’s Codex Alimentarius. The Codex Alimentarius, led by the FAO and WHO, develops food standards, guidelines and codes of practice to ensure the safety, quality and fairness of international food trade.
In addition to this, EFSA’s mission is highly citizen-oriented. The Authority’s work aims to inform and protect European consumers about any food chain risks. Subsequently, EFSA communicates openly and transparently to the public via different means, such as with its campaigns. One of EFSA’s successful campaigns is the #EUChooseSafeFood campaign (see image below). EFSA has been running this mainly digital campaign jointly with EU Member States for two years already. This campaign aims to help citizens think critically about their everyday food choices. It further seeks to raise awareness about the
science behind our food, including topics such as plant health. Primarily targeting 25 to 45-year-old EU citizens, the campaign also explains EFSA’s role in contributing to EU legislation that protects consumers and the food chain.
The VIRTIGATION project and EFSA
As a key European actor in shaping EU plant health policies, EFSA is a vital policy stakeholder for VIRTIGATION. The project’s scientific partners in particular are contributing to the elaboration of European plant health standards and engaging with the various bodies of EFSA. Subsequently, VIRTIGATION aims to use these ties to feed its project results into the work of EFSA throughout the project’s lifetime. Through its work in the coming years, VIRTIGATION seeks to especially contribute to EFSA’s risk assessments on ToBRFV and ToLCNDV. Moreover, the project envisages to provide inputs to the Authority’s regularly updated categorizations and survey cards on these plant pests.