What will the New Year bring? We can’t be sure about everything but we already know a few things in store in 2022.
Coronavirus will still be around and impacting the food sector; new trade rules and embargoes will have to be dealt with by importers and exporters; and global food safety strategies will become clearer.
Some of the issues listed in 2021 are also likely to continue this year. Plus, at the bottom of this article, you can find a selection of events in date order.
The pandemic has had a direct and indirect impact on foodborne infections according to many public health officials. Most reports in 2021 covered the year before with figures on diseases and outbreaks going down, sometimes by more than half, although the more serious ones such as Listeria and botulism didn’t drop as much as agents such as norovirus, in most cases.
From the national reports that will be published covering 2021, I suspect we will still see the COVID-19 impact but it might not be as prominent with public health agencies adjusting to the pandemic, fewer lockdowns and less travel restrictions plus more food businesses being open. This may help us draw out more conclusively if the declines are actually from a reduction in people getting sick or from cases that were not reported. The likely answer is that it is a bit of both.
China’s General Administration of Customs (GAC) is to require all food and beverage manufacturers exporting to the country to register with the agency and display registration numbers on the label and package. Failure to do so will prevent the companies from being able to send products to China. The two new rules were published in April 2021 and come into effect beginning in January 2022.
One of the laws requires all overseas manufacturers, processors, and storage facilities of imported food to register with the GAC and identifies categories of foods that require special registration such as meat products, dairy products, egg products, nuts and seeds, dried fruits and health food.
The other covers a range of requirements on food sent to China, including facility registration, record filing by importers and exporters, quarantine and inspection, and product labeling.
Beginning in January 2022, Belarus is banning some imports of products including beef and pork, poultry meat and products, milk and dairy products, vegetables, fruit, nuts, confectionery and salt.
It affects goods from EU countries, the United States, Canada, Norway, Albania, Iceland, North Macedonia, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland. More products could be added to the list. The ban is in place for an initial period of six months. Officials in Belarus said the move was in response to international sanctions.
Industry group Freshfel Europe, the European Fresh Produce Association, voiced concerns about the restrictions on international trade. Philippe Binard, from Freshfel Europe, said fruits and vegetables are too often used as bargaining chips in other disputes.
“Once again, European fruit and vegetables are the hostages of international geopolitical disputes,” Binard said. “In 2014, the Russian embargo deeply hit the fresh produce sector. The European fruit and vegetable sector is already bearing about a third of the €7.5 billion ($8.5 billion) worth burden of the Russian embargo. Later in the decade, the Algerian embargo affected close to 300,000 tons of export. Most recently, the United States also included fruit and vegetables in retaliation measures impacting in particular the citrus category.”
The Belarus embargo concerns about 400,000 to 500,000 tons of fresh produce from the EU, affecting mostly apples, pears, strawberries, and tomatoes. Poland is the main supplier to Belarus with others including Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain, Greece, and Italy.
Both the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations are publishing updated food safety strategies in 2022. In May, WHO’s strategy for 2022 to 2030 will be taken up by the 75th World Health Assembly. FAO’s will be presented at the next Committee on Agriculture meeting.
WHO has also launched a Food Safety Community of Practice (COP). This is an online forum for professionals working on and interested in food safety issues. Members will receive access to webinars, monthly updates and food safety resources and can submit event announcements and other content to be shared with the community. Join by following this link.
By 2025, we should have updated figures from estimates published in 2015 on the global burden of foodborne diseases. The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2022 the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture (IYAFA).
Maybe, just maybe, the fourth World Food Safety Day will involve more physical activities, with the second and third attempts at marking this day pushed online because of COVID-19. Food Safety News got a mention in a report highlighting who did what on June 7 for our coverage of the annual day, which involved more than 300 events in 90 countries.
Hopefully the momentum gained in 2021 through a number of events will be carried into 2022.
There was the IFC Food Safety Forum, the African Continental Association for Food Protection (ACAFP) held the first ACAFP Conference on Food Safety in Africa and several webinars as part of the EatSafe project, led by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). We may see developments to support the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), possible establishment of an Africa Food Safety Agency, and updates to the African Food Safety Index.
Now that the United Kingdom is no longer a member of the European Union it can have different rules on food. Some of the potential changes will come from natural timely reviews while others may be driven by trade deals. We have already seen a different approach in the ethylene oxide incident as EU countries recalled products while the UK went for the withdrawal option.
A comment period is ongoing in the UK regarding controls on food imports from Japan following the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011. The EU has already updated its rules on such checks. Another complication is while England can do one thing, Wales or Scotland may do another. Then there is Northern Ireland, which has to stick with EU rules under the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Both the UK and EU are making moves on changing the rules on gene editing in plants with a look at genetically modified organism (GMO) regulation expected to follow. Another example is use of the food additive titanium dioxide that is to be banned in the EU but the UK decision is pending.
We should hear results from the next annual Operation Opson, which is coordinated by Interpol and Europol, on dodgy food and drink products. Opson X in 2021 involved 15,000 tons of food and drink worth $60 million being seized. This included bivalves, such as mussels and oysters, unfit for human consumption; organic bananas from Ecuador with traces of pesticides; horse passport and horse meat issues; honey fraud; and colorants used to change the quality of beverages.
Figures on notifications in the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) portal in 2021 will be updated. In 2020, ethylene oxide related recalls dominated and will feature heavily again but the decline in border rejection notifications in 2020 because of the impact of COVID-19 on global trade might not be as noticeable in the 2021 data. This report also covers joint notification summary alerts. These are not made public at the time but detail small scale multi-country foodborne outbreaks.
The EU Agri-Food Fraud Network, which records discussions but not actual incidents, will publish a new annual report. In 2020, the top categories reported in the system were fats and oils and fish and meat products. Online sale of food supplements, mainly related to health claims on COVID-19 prevention and treatment, was one key topic. The main non-compliance in 2020 was mislabeling.