An article published on April 27, 2016 in the peer-reviewed journal Food Control, describes the methodology and discussion outcomes (2010-2014) of the emerging risks exchange network (EREN), established by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) in 2010. The article is co-authored by representatives of various food-related authorities from EU Member States (MS).
During 2010-2014, EREN met 12 times and discussed 63 emerging issues. These issues can be categorized into microbiological hazards (16), chemical hazards (15), as well as food safety issues resulting from illegal activity (7), new consumer consumption trends (6), biotoxins (5), new technologies and processes (5), allergens (2), unknown hazards (2), animal health (2), environmental pollution (1), new analytical methods (1), and new food packaging technology (1). Of the 63 discussed issues, EREN considered 22 (35%) to be truly emerging and hence meriting a follow-up, while other 22 (35%) issues were considered “not emerging”, and no conclusion could be reached on another 19 issues (30%) due to lack of data. The article provides a detailed account of discussion and conclusions reached for four example issues; information on other issues can be found in EREN’s technical reports published yearly.
Emerging issues related to food contact materials as discussed by EREN were
- “Polyfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)”
- “Use of morpholine in wax coatings for fruits”
- “Presence of nanosilica in food products”
- “Prenatal perfluoorooctanoic acid exposure in CD-1 mice: low dose developmental effects and internal dosimetry”
- “Di-phenyl phthalate dosing during sexual differentiation disrupts fetal tests function and postnatal development of the male Sprague Dawley rat with greater relative potency than other phthalates”
- “Acetyl Tributyl Citrate: a widely used phthalate substitute plasticizer”
- “Potential chemical contamination of food from recycled paper”
- EREN considered this a potential emerging issue, and recommended EFSA to generate migration data, review the types of food that may be in contact with recycled paper, and promote standardized migration test methods
- “The use of the ECHA’s Candidate List of Substances of Very High Concern to identify emerging chemicals risks”
- This topic was followed-up by EFSA’s “self-tasking mandate on a project 2014-2015 on potential contamination of the food/feed chain from industrial and environmental chemical contaminants with certain characteristics (i.e. volume of production, dispersive use, persistence in the environment, bioaccumulation and toxicity).”
- “Alternatives to bisphenol A for food contact material applications”
- EREN considered this a potential emerging issue, and recommended that EFSA considers establishing a working group to review the toxicity of BPA alternatives, noting, however, that a risk assessment for authorization of new substances is expected to be initiated “through the normal channels”.
- “Epigenetic endpoints in chemical risk assessment regulatory testing”
- EREN commented that the issue is still “in its infancy” but “a promising tool for chemical risk assessment”, and recommended EFSA to keep an eye on the new developments in the field; in June 2016, EFSA will host a scientific colloquium on epigenetics and risk assessment (FPF reported).
- “Long term effects of food emulsifiers on intestinal barriers”
- EREN considered this an emerging issue of concern because cumulative chemical effects are plausible, and disruption of gut barrier may play a role in several non-communicable diseases currently on the rise. Further, EREN commented that there should be a “risk assessment of the total exposure of the European population to all surface active additives used in food taking into account that many other surface active substances [e.g. fatty acids, natural toxins such as solanine and chakonine, environmental pollutants such as perfluorinated alkyl acids] are also present in food”, and recommended that EFSA reviews epidemiological data “to determine whether epidemiological studies can detect such side effects” and conducts an industry survey to collect data on “the quantity of use of such additives in processed products”.
- “Potential issues with the transition from long-chain poly- and per-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs) to new fluorinated alternatives”
- EREN considered this an emerging issue, and recommended EFSA to collect environmental occurrence data and estimate associated risk.
EREN serves to facilitate the exchange of the information between EFSA and MS on potential emerging risks for food and feed safety, including animal health. In addition to delegates from MS and Norway, the EREN includes observers from the European Commission (EC), EU pre-accession countries, as well as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations. During regular meetings, the EREN members work out an expert opinion on whether an emerging issue under discussion is indeed emerging and meriting follow-up actions by EFSA. The discussions at EREN’s meetings are held generally following a Briefing Note Template for presentation and assessment of potential emerging issues, developed by the Emerging Risks unit of EFSA (EMRISK).
In 2007, the Scientific Committee of the European Food Safety Authority defined that an emerging risk to human, animal and/or plant health is such a risk that results “from a newly identified hazard to which a significant exposure may occur or from an unexpected new or increased significant exposure and/or susceptibility to a known hazard.” Accordingly, an “emerging issue” typically discussed by EREN is defined as an issue that “could be a food or feed safety risk that has very recently been identified and merits further investigation, and for which the information collected is still too limited to be able to assess whether it meets the requirements of an emerging risk.”
EFSA (2007). “Definition and description of “emerging risks” within the EFSA’s mandate.” pdf
EFSA (2011). “Annual report on the Emerging Risks Exchange Network 2010.” EFSA-Q-2011-00231 pdf
EFSA (2012). “Annual report on the Emerging Risks Exchange Network 2011.” EFSA-Q-2011-00399 pdf
EFSA (2014). “Update on EFSA’s activities on emerging risks 2012-2013.” pdf
EFSA (2014). “Annual report of the Emerging Risks Exchange Network 2013.” EFSA-Q-2014-00610 pdf
EFSA (2015). “Annual report of the Emerging Risks Exchange Network 2014.” EFSA-Q-2015-00019 pdf
Costa, M. C., et al. (2016). “Risk identification in food safety: Strategy and outcomes of the EFSA emerging risks Exchange network (EREN), 2010-2014.” Food Control (published online April 27, 2016).