Exclusive: World food safety expert on challenges in delivery food safety in a global food chain

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 14th May 2012

In an exclusive interview with Australian Food News, internationally acclaimed authority on consumer protection and food security, Associate Professor Patrick Wall, discusses the current challenges in delivering food safety in a global food chain.

Patrick Wall is Associate Professor of Public Health in University College Dublin’s  School of Public Health and Population Sciences.

Professor Wall led the establishment of the Irish Food Safety Authority in response to the BSE (Mad Cow Disease) crisis. He has chaired the European Food Safety Authority and was part of a select committee advising the Chinese government on food safety for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Food Globilization Professor Wall told Australian Food News he believes one of the biggest problems faced by food safety regulators, particularly in the European Union, is in adapting to what has become a “global food village”.

“As far as food safety is concerned, we live in a global village. We catch fish in Scotland, fly it five thousand miles to China where it’s shelled by hand, and then fly it five thousand miles back to Scotland where it’s sold as ‘fresh’,” Professor Wall said.

“Often the health of a country’s citizens and of the security of its food chain, is dependent on the controls in operation in another jurisdiction.

Professor Wall said, “Even local produce sold at village markets is often complex. For instance, animal feed has become a global industry. Most vitamins and minerals used in the EU come from China and the majority of animal feed is imported.”

Regulating food safety in the global food chain

Professor Wall explained some of the regulatory problems with Australian Food News. He said that within the global food chain, mixed standards in food safety regulation currently exists. However, even if these standards were to be harmonized, some countries are better able to enforce them than others.

“Regulation means nothing if it’s not enforced properly,” Professor Wall said. ” Adding that in Australia, there are more controls over the food chain than in the EU.

“Traceability is no guarantee of safety”

“The more steps in the food chain, the more opportunity there is for things to go wrong. And the more players there are in the food chain, the more likely one of them will be a shoddy operator or, worse still, a criminal. A company’s food brand is only as secure as its weakest supplier. Traceability is no guarantee of safety – the food chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” Professor Wall said.

Food companies more vulnerable in complex food chains

Professor Wall said that in many countries the legal requirements concerning aspects of food safety are “like pass requirements in exams”.

Professor Wall said, “Food-borne disease outbreaks are not bad luck, they are bad management. Outbreaks can come from contaminated raw ingredients, inadequate storage conditions, inadequate hygiene facilities for staff, poorly supervised of trained staff, amongst other things.

“In a complex, maze-like food chain, where conducting product recalls is very costly for food companies, procurement policies have become increasingly important.”

Professor Wall to address AIFST Convention in Adelaide

Associate Professor Wall will be the key-note speaker at the 45th Annual Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology (AIFST) Convention in Adelaide, from 15 to 18 July 2012.

At the convention, Professor Wall will also be discussing Providing issues involved in safe and nutritious food in Hospitals and Age care facilities.