New FAO Report on the Future of Food Safety
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released a new report on the future of food safety. The report is titled Thinking about the future of food safety - A foresight report and it explores possible new food safety concerns for the future. One of the keys to reaching the United Nations 2030 sustainable development goals is the transformation of our food systems. This will require transformation of not only agricultural systems, but also the identification of new food sources, changes to processing, and the transportation and storage of food.
The report overviews some of the anticipated drivers of what will be important drivers of new food safety concerns. These include (but aren’t limited to) climate change and the disruptions it will cause to traditional food production, shifting consumer behaviors and the desire for sustainably sourced food, and new food sources and production systems. The potential changes in food systems mean we will not only face different biological threats to the food system with the potential exposure to new pests and potential toxic fungal species, but potentially new chemical hazards as well.
The report highlights a number of emerging subjects, and their possible food safety implications. What were once local food sources (like jellyfish and seaweed) are becoming more global in their consumption. However, jellyfish tends to spoil easily allowing it to serve as a vector for pathogenic bacteria, and seaweed can accumulate high levels of toxic metals like arsenic. In addition, new technologies like plant-based alternatives and cell-based meat sources will come with their own, new set of challenges for production and distribution.
FDA approves IGA cattle
On March 7, 2022 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a low-risk determination for the marketing of products and food from two genome-edited beef cattle. This determination indicates that the FDA considers these animals to not raise any safety concerns. Because of the low-risk determination, the FDA does not expect the developers of these cattle to pursue the approval prior to marketing (enforcement discretion).
Steven Solomon, DVM MPH, and Director of the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine states that this “demonstrates our ability to identify low-risk IGAs that don’t raise concerns about safety, when used for food production.” He also expects this to encourage other developers of such technology to come forward. This decision likely paves the way for more animals with genomic modifications to reach the market.
These cattle have an intentional genomic alteration (IGA) which results in a short hair coat. This is seen naturally in some conventional cattle, allowing them to grow a short-haired, “slick” coat. This helps with heat abatement for cattle raised in warmer climates. Using CRISPR technology, the cattle were modified to have the same naturally occurring genome and are known as PRLR-SLICK cattle. While these are not the first animals which have gained FDA approval for IGAs, they are the first cattle to receive such a designation. Acceligen, a Minnesota-based company, is behind this innovation.
Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Inches Closer to Minnesota
Since the last Weekly Update regarding highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) on March 4th, 6 new states have confirmed cases. The USDA has diagnosed these additional cases in Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Maryland, and South Dakota. As of March 14, cases have been identified in commercial flocks in 13 states, with wild animal cases found elsewhere. Many of these locations are located along the Mississippi and Missouri river flyways, leading to increasing risks for poultry operations within the state of Minnesota.
In Iowa alone, there have been 3 confirmed cases ranging from non-commercial (backyard), commercial turkey, and laying hens. These cases were located mainly in the western part of the state, but spread across Buena Vista, Pottawattamie, and Taylor counties. South Dakota is the other neighboring state to Minnesota with a confirmed diagnosis. This case was found in a mixed commercial flock located in Charles Mix county, in the south-central part of South Dakota.
Although there has been no indication of HPAI getting into the food supply, it has still had economic consequences for poultry producers in the United States. The European Union has banned the import of eggs within 10 km of each infected farm. Japan, South Korea, and other countries have also placed import restrictions on select poultry products. Both the Federal government and States have encouraged poultry producers to be aware of the risks, watch for signs of HPAI in their flocks, and to increase biosecurity in the meantime. To track where cases have been found, see this map put together by Henry Niman, a biochemist located in Pittsburgh.