The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has identified eight emerging risks in a recently published technical report summarizing the agency’s emerging risk identification activities for 2021. EFSA’s emerging risk identification efforts are a collaboration between the Emerging Risks Exchange Network (EREN), the Stakeholder Discussion Group on Emerging Risks, and EFSA’s scientific units, scientific panels, and Scientific Committee and its working groups.
In total, 18 potential emerging issues were discussed in 2021, of which eight were decided to be emerging risks. The potential issues were also classified according to the hazard or driver identified. In more than half of the issues discussed in 2021, a change in consumer trends was identified as a driver. The emerging issues are:
- A new ovine pest virus closely related to classical swine fever virus identified in Italy
- The risk of overdosing on vitamin D from food supplements
- The first detection of West Caucasian Lyssavirus in Italy
- The emergence of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia albertii (STEA)
- Possible health risks of consuming coconut oil, such as containing significantly higher LDL-cholesterol compared to other oils and possibly inducing insulin resistance
- Possible emerging risks associated with decreased use of pesticides and fertilizers on food crops, like diminished quality and safety of food caused by the increased presence of organisms affecting edible plants
- Brevetoxins in French shellfish
- Mycoplasma bovis infections in Belgium.
Regarding the emerging risk of vitamin D overdosing, French health authorities have been alerted to several cases of severe hypercalcaemia, sometimes with lithiasis/nephrocalcinosis requiring hospitalization, in previously healthy infants who were exposed to vitamin D from food supplements. The technical report notes the presence of food supplements containing different concentrations/dosages of vitamin D on the European market.
Additionally, with respect to STEA, several studies have examined its environmental prevalence, detection possibilities, genomes, and pathogenicity potential. The pathogen has been isolated from various animals, such as pigs, cats, and birds, but the natural reservoir of E. albertii is still unclear, and discovering this information is essential to determine STEA transmission dynamics and prevent infections. STEA was first described in 2003 and is often misidentified as E. coli.
Brevetoxins in French shellfish were first identified in November 2018, in mussels from a lagoon in Corsica. Brevetoxins are marine biotoxins responsible for neurotoxic shellfish poisoning. The main known producer of BTXs is the marine dinoflagellate Karenia brevis, but other microalgae are also suspected to produce brevetoxin-like compounds. Brevetoxins are currently not regulated in France or Europe, but the French Agency for Food, Environmental, and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES) identified two lowest-observed adverse effect levels (LOAELs) and proposed a guidance level of 180 micrograms of brevetoxin per kilogram of shellfish meat, considering a protective default portion size of 400 grams of shellfish meat.
Additionally, the technical report listed 35 potential emerging issues identified by EREN members, which comprises representatives from EU Member States, Norway, Switzerland, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). The potential issues include topics like the increasing consumption of crocodile meat, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) hotspot contamination of meat, synthetic cannabinoids in food, microgreens, insect meat, food fraud of buffalo milk, and other concerns.