Thursday, 28 April 2011
Jørgen Schlundt interview: Consumer groups key in food production policy change
Jørgen Schlundt, Deputy Director at the National Food Institute, Danish Technical University, will speak at CI World Congress about the responsibilities and opportunities consumer organisations will have in relation to the new conceptual framework being introduced all over the world for food safety: The Risk Analysis framework.
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A passionate advocate for consumer rights, Jørgen spoke to Consumers International about the theme of his forthcoming presentation: “Consumer organisations are considered important partners (stakeholders) in defining the food safety policies and solutions. This is a significant departure from the previous roles for consumers within old-time food safety systems. The consumer was then often considered one of the problems, and not part of the solution. A typical old-time statement would for instance be that “most foodborne diseases could be avoided if consumers did the right thing in the kitchen!
“While there is a clear need to improve consumer behaviour through consumer education (eg via the WHO ‘Five keys to safer food’), it is clearly wrong to suggest that the responsibility for safe food is with the consumer: This is a joint responsibility that lies primarily with the producer. The crucial new role of consumers as stakeholders also in defining policies should open up a whole new playing field for consumer organisations, influencing food production and food safety systems to continuously improve.”
Making a difference
The renowned food expert urges consumer organisations to take up responsibility for the empowerment of consumers in this area: “When defining food production and food safety policies was only with authorities and food industries, the outcome has often been a decline in both safety and quality of the food we eat. In fact, most major changes in food safety systems stem from food scandals (BSE in Europe and E coli in USA), ie only when consumers were made aware of the problems through reports of disease and death linked to food. In future systems, relevant data - on food and disease - will be made available in a more transparent manner, and consumers will be at the table when decisions are made. But this will only make a difference if consumer organisations are ready to take up this responsibility.”
Food, a global issue
Schlundt believes that his contribution to CI Congress can ultimately be of benefit to consumers: “I hope to increase awareness of the potential to improve the safety and nutritional quality of our food – and I do say ‘our food’ because no country in this day and age relies only on home-grown food. Food production is now truly global, and therefore consumer action in support of better food cannot only be local, it has to at some stage go global. At the same time, I hope to increase the general knowledge of some of the simple solutions we already know exist, but simply have not been implemented in most countries because of lack of consumer ‘push’.”
These simple solutions, according to Jørgen Schlundt, are: “The need for consumers to be involved in changing food production policy; the potential to produce safer food by simple changes; the significant reduction in foodborne disease burden that can be achieved through changes in food production and food control; the benefit of sharing experience between countries and between consumers of data, solutions and results; the opportunity of sharing knowledge of food safety and nutrition with all consumers - everyone has to eat.”
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