The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has picked the Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) to support food safety and authenticity research.

The IAEA and IGFS of Queen’s University Belfast in the United Kingdom formalized their collaboration during a virtual ceremony at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting.

The IGFS has provided research support to the IAEA in feed and food safety, authenticity and traceability for a number of years and becomes a collaborating center until 2025. It is the 47th IAEA center across a range of sectors.

These sites assist the IAEA by doing research and development as well as training scientists in methods relating to nuclear science and technologies.

Food safety and authenticity
IGFS, which has connections with institutes in Africa and South East Asia, will support the IAEA’s activities on building capacity for food safety and security in countries through applied research, technology transfer and giving guidance and advice.

The collaboration is aimed at protecting consumer health, enabling trade in food commodities through safety and quality certifications, and tackling issues such as food fraud.

“This will expand the scope of nuclear and complementary analytical methods available to IAEA member state laboratories to support systems for controlling food contaminants, food authenticity and traceability,” said Najat Mokhtar, IAEA deputy director general and head of the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications.

Professor Chris Elliott, founder of IGFS, said: “We are thrilled by the opportunities this agreement will provide for us to support the vital work of the agency.”

The IGFS provides research to stakeholders, including regulators, governments and multinational industries. It tackles food contamination and adulteration and works on food integrity projects.

Professor Nigel Scollan, IGFS director, said: “We wholeheartedly support and share (the IAEA’s) vision of using the very best science and technology to make the world a better place and look forward to continued collaboration in the area of food and feed safety and authenticity.”

FAO and IAEA Division becomes Center
Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and IAEA have updated a collaboration arrangement with the Joint FAO/IAEA Nuclear Techniques Division becoming a Joint FAO/IAEA Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture.

The work in its laboratories near Vienna and other sites covers food irradiation, ensuring developing countries’ agricultural output meets international phytosanitary standards for trade, and detecting harmful chemicals in food.

The center has an annual operating budget of more than €15 million ($17.8 million) and more than 100 scientists and technicians from different countries.

Liang Qu, director of the center, said precision is critical given the complexity of agri-food systems.

“Take food traceability and authenticity systems, which are increasingly demanded by people to determine the origin and detect economically motivated food adulteration,” he said.

Use of stable isotopes holds promise for food quality and safety. Countries are using the center’s tracing methodology and expertise to find misleading claims on honey and grass-fed beef.

“All food has water inside, and water is H20. Oxygen is an atom, so water has a fingerprint, and we can determine exactly where it came from,” said Liang.

Liang’s team have a Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action (ZODIAC) initiative to help countries prevent pandemics caused by bacteria, parasites, fungi or viruses that originate in animals and have the potential to spread to humans.

The project aims to improve tracing of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases at the animal-human interface, and help monitor mutant variations of pathogens at the molecular and immunological level.

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