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World Health Day: ANSES's food safety priorities

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News of 07/04/2015

Worldwide, France ranks very high with regard to food safety. However in light of the globalisation of trade, new consumer habits and the diversity of the food offer, great vigilance is required to prevent risks, especially emerging ones, in the food sector. These risks must be assessed, with a focus on both the "traditional" physico-chemical and microbiological risks, and on certain risks associated with environmental contaminants. This is the role of ANSES, which is involved in all the phases of the food chain and assesses health risks from primary production to the consumer's plate. Its priorities include: the scientific assessment of risks in support of public policy, the prevention of risks due to new products and new consumer habits, and the detection of emerging risks.


In the area of food safety, France is often considered a pioneer in Europe and worldwide for its application of risk control policies that produce effective results. Salmonellosis, which remains one of the major causes of foodborne illness outbreaks, has dropped by 50% in the last ten years in France. Similarly, the number of cases of listeriosis, a foodborne illness of great concern due to its severity, has dropped five-fold in the last 30 years. These successes of our health and safety system, which empower all the stakeholders involved in the food chain, "from farm to fork", must not cause us to lower our collective guard in our efforts to maintain high standards of health and safety and to prevent emerging risks. In light of the globalisation of trade, new consumer habits and the diversity of the offer, great vigilance is required to prevent new risks in the food sector.

These emerging risks must be assessed, with a focus on both the more traditional and well-known physico-chemical and microbiological risks (contamination by bacteria, viruses and parasites, substances found in food packaging, etc.), and on certain risks associated with environmental contaminants (pesticide residues, drug residues, etc.).


Priorities of the 2015 work programme

Assess risks to support public policy

In the framework of the National Programme for Nutrition and Health (PNNS) and its activities linked to nutritional benefits and risks, ANSES participates actively in the drafting of public health objectives and recommendations, especially through its work in updating nutritional guidelines. Every seven years, it conducts its Individual and National Food Consumption Surveys (INCA) in which food consumption data is gathered from a sample of inhabitants of metropolitan France over a period of several days. These surveys provide the Agency with up-to-date data on the population's food consumption habits. The third INCA survey was launched in 2014.

Its results, which will be available in 2016, will make it possible to situate the population's diet with regard to the PNNS and to consider pursuing, modifying or reinforcing the priorities of France's nutritional policy.

In addition, as part of France’s national strategy on endocrine disruptors (SNPE) set up by the Ministry of ecology, a risk assessment report on six new substances which may be present in consumer foods will be published in 2015. The Agency will also present its proposal of selection criteria for substances to be assessed as a priority and those substances to be proposed for 2016.


Assist consumers on a regular basis to prevent risks linked to new products and consumer habits

To prevent the risks posed by new product offerings, ANSES is supported by its nutritional vigilance scheme, which helps to quickly identify any possible adverse effects of the consumption of food supplements or novel foods. As a result of reports of adverse effects, three internal requests regarding food supplements are currently under way, one for pregnant women, one for athletes, and one for supplements containing spirulina. Their conclusions are expected in 2015.

The Agency also conducts studies on nanomaterials, which are found in food as well as other products, and which require the acquisition of new data. It will also publish an opinion shortly on the use of insects as food and the health risks linked to their consumption.


Detect emerging issues

The development of food allergies is one of the emerging topics which must be closely monitored.

ANSES is currently undertaking a descriptive review of the frequency with which 14 notifiable allergens are found in the ingredient lists of food products, as well as advisory label indications for these allergens on over 17 000 products. Its results are expected in May 2015.

An Infant Total Diet Study is also currently being conducted. Its conclusions, which will be available at the end of the year, will provide highly detailed information on the exposure of children under three to chemical contaminants in their diet. 


ANSES's activities in the area of food and diet

The Agency assesses the microbiological and chemical risks of foods, as well as their nutritional risks and benefits. It coordinates vigilance and surveillance programmes (nutrivigilance, OQALI, the health component of the Food Observatory, CIQUAL, the Observatory of Pesticide Residues). For sector professionals, the Agence produces information sheets on the main foodborne biological hazards as well as tools to help in the drafting of good hygiene practice guidelines.

In its laboratories, it conducts research and reference work with the help of increasingly innovative technologies (NGS platform, high throughput molecular biology, non-targeted detection tools), in order to develop new analysis methods for use by operational laboratories in the field, thus reinforcing the methods for monitoring and detecting pathogens throughout the food chain. Much of this work in conducted in collaboration with national and international institutes and organisations.