The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is to host a virtual meeting in October on climate change.

Scientists led by EFSA have developed a way to judge possible effects of climate change on emerging risks for food safety. It includes scoresheets that characterize potential impacts climate change could have on a range of food safety-related issues.

The approach was developed in the CLEFSA (CLimate change and Emerging risks for Food SAfety) project. Experts from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, EuroCigua project, European Environment Agency, Food and Agriculture Organization, Joint Research Centre, University of California, UN Environment Programme, and the World Health Organization took part.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations attempted to quantify current and anticipated food safety issues associated with climate change in a report published earlier this year. In 2019, the World Health Organization warned climate change was likely to have a considerable impact on food safety.

Effect on occurrence and intensity
In 2018, EFSA launched the CLEFSA project and ran a survey to get insights on emerging issues potentially affected by climate change. More than 600 people responded, providing more than 240 issues. These points have been added to by a literature search, EFSA’s Emerging Risks Networks, and information from EFSA activities.

Sensitivity of germs, potentially toxin-producing microorganisms and other pests suggests that climate change could affect occurrence and intensity of some foodborne diseases. Surface seawater warming and increased nutrients input leads to the profusion of toxin-producing algae causing outbreaks of seafood contamination.

Environmental factors such as temperature, rainfall, humidity levels and soil can help explain the distribution and survival of bacteria such as Salmonella and Campylobacter. Presence of norovirus in oysters from sewage runoffs caused by heavy rainstorm and flooding may also be linked to the increasing frequency of extreme weather. Climate change is considered a driver of changes in the occurrence of mycotoxins in Europe. It may also impact food hygiene, in primary production, storage, transport and distribution.

In a report on the project, experts said climate change is likely to drive the emergence of new hazards and increase the exposure or the susceptibility to known hazards.

“Climate change and its implications for food safety demand complex scientific work, given the number and diversity of hazards to be considered, the large uncertainties involved and the interconnections between the different areas,” according to the report.

Biological hazards and contaminants
The CLEFSA project analyzed more than 100 emerging issues for food and feed safety, plant and animal health, and nutritional quality and characterized 14 of them. It used a reference period from 1981 to 2010 and a near-future period from 2021 to 2050. The approach involved three phases: identification, characterization and analysis.

Issues related to biological hazards to human health included anisakis, Toxoplasma gondii, Trichinella, Cryptosporidium, Yersinia, Listeria, E. coli, norovirus and Campylobacter. No issues with extremely low or high impact were identified in the near-future climate scenario. Likelihood of the issues in the future ranges from very high for Vibrio spp. to very low for Echinococcus spp.

No issues with extremely low or high impact were identified for contaminants under the near-future climate scenario. Issues included Ciguatoxins, Tetrodotoxin, Deoxynivalenol and zearalenone.

“The wide variety of issues identified and characterized in this report emphasizes the need for policymakers and other relevant players in the food system to consider adjusting surveillance and monitoring to prepare for emerging risks caused by climate change,” according to the report.

Registration for the virtual information session on Oct. 8 opens soon and is limited to 500 participants or those who sign up by Sept. 30, which ever comes first.

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