After a three-year effort that I led to develop a large-scale food safety research partnership between the EU and China, I was delighted when the contract was finally signed this month. Between the EU Horizon 2020 and Chinese MOST programmes, more than €10m (£8.8m) will be pumped into this multi-partner, multi-stakeholder initiative.
The project, EU-China-Safe, will mobilise resources across Europe and China to develop a cohesive partnership that strives to improve food safety and fight food fraud. Our team comprises 16 participants from the EU and 17 from China, including key research organisations, government agencies, the food industry, Queen’s University, Cranswick, FERA and Arc-net.
The challenge to build a joint EU-China food safety control system, comprising harmonising food legislation and inspection, driving innovation in food control laboratories and improving education and communication to the public, is substantial. Even more ambitious is the plan to develop a EU-China Joint Laboratory Network that will go on to become a state-of-the-art virtual lab, with interchangeable staff from two continents.
We also plan to implement innovative traceability tools such as blockchain to strengthen the most vulnerable of supply chains. Of course, our focus is around making food consumed within two continents safer and free from fraud. However, we can’t forget that the main reason we received the funding was due to increasing issues of trade barriers caused by food safety and fraud issues. We will analyse the causes for some of these barriers and will make recommendations about how to predict and prevent events to make trade relations much stronger. Our project team thought long and hard about which types of foods to concentrate our efforts on and, wrongly or rightly, we selected infant formula, processed meats, fruit, veg, wine, honey and spices.
China is often talked about as one of the great opportunities for UK food exports. While the project is very European-focused, there will be significant learnings from all the studies we plan that will be highly important to the UK food industry.
Chris Elliott is director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University, Belfast