The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has released a report that summarizes its activities to identify emerging risks, communication about such risks, and work to improve emerging risk identification (ERI) approaches during 2020.

Involved in EFSA’s ERI procedure is the Emerging Risks Exchange Network (EREN), which was established in 2010 for information exchange and scientific cooperation between risk assessors in EU Member States and EFSA’s ERI on possible emerging risks for food and feed safety, as well as to enhance risk assessment practices. The Stakeholder Discussion Group on Emerging Risks (StaDG-ER), also part of the ERI procedure, began in 2011 to regularly engage with EFSA-registered stakeholder organizations on emerging food safety risks. EFSA’s scientific units, scientific panels, and the Scientific Committee also contribute knowledge to ERI.

In 2020, a total of 13 potential emerging risks were discussed across six EREN and StaDG-ER meetings each. The risks were categorized, six as “emerging,” and another six as “not emerging” or not having enough information to draw a conclusion, although they may have new drivers. The majority of emerging risks were microbiological (five), followed by two chemical hazards, one microbiological and chemical hazard, one new process or technology, and four miscellaneous hazards. Specifically, the risks include:

  • COVID-19 infection in animals
  • Tickborne encephalitis due to raw goat milk consumption in France
  • Steroidal selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs) in food supplements
  • Toys and occupying materials in animal husbandry
  • Potential health risks linked to a large intake of collagen powder
  • Emerging risks associated with novel feed products and novel feed production technologies
  • Food contaminated by the COVID-19 virus
  • Besnoitiosis, a disease that affects cattle
  • Issues with the distribution and the excessive use and misuse of disinfectants during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on food safety
  • The possibility of Chagas disease in Europe due to climate change
  • Potential risks of introducing oxodegradable plastic into the environment
  • Potential risks of using succinate dehydrogenase inhibitor (SDHI) fungicides

Additionally, in 2020, EREN network members presented and discussed a total of 35 signals and potential emerging issues identified by their own horizon-scanning activities. Member State representatives shared their work on signal identification with the objective of collecting additional information to be used for better risk characterization. EFSA updated its template to collect the information and a unique identifier is now attributed to each of the signals and potential emerging issues to allow for traceability of the issue, with the possibility to update the information over time. A new EU Survey-based system has also been developed to characterize and analyze emerging issues without having to wait for an EREN or StaDG-ER meeting.

Furthermore, in 2020, the Emerging Risks Knowledge Exchange Platform (ERKEP) prototype was developed under the DEMETER project to provide a digital collaboration tool and knowledge management system beyond the existing repository for ERI and analysis activities between EFSA and its partners. Additionally, the report summarizes EFSA emerging risks communication and presentations, and acknowledges room for improvement regarding the low frequency of EFSA emerging risk communications with the general public.