The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has added its voice of support to the people of Ukraine while reassuring those in the United Kingdom that no related food safety risks have yet been detected.

The agency joined a growing list of those expressing backing for those affected by what is happening in Ukraine and concern about the impact on the food sector following Russia’s invasion.

The European Commission is expected to give more details on food safety, security and resilience of the food chain on March 23.

Susan Jebb, FSA chair, said: “I want to assure you that the agency has been working internally and with other government departments to consider our response. There are potential impacts around the food supply chain, the risk of radiological contamination if nuclear sites are disrupted and possible effects on UK food businesses.”

Emily Miles, FSA chief executive, said the agency is in contact with Defra and other government agencies to prepare responses to what could happen and to look at what is happening.

“There may be impacts on the food supply chain, which in turn may have knock on impacts for food safety, food prices and there may be other risks. At the moment there isn’t a huge amount of pressure on us with that work but we expect that to potentially increase over the coming weeks,” she said.

“We have not detected any imminent food safety implications at this time, but the food system could be impacted in a variety of ways, including changes in seasonal worker availability, energy price increases, and price rises for some imported commodities and fertilizers.”

The National Farmers Union (NFU) in the UK said disruption to food output, supply chains, availability and affordability, could last for many years.

European angle
European agencies and trade groups have also aired concerns because the EU and Russia had been important trading partners. Ukraine is the EU’s fourth biggest food supplier and provides the region with a quarter of its cereal and vegetable oil imports, including nearly half of its maize.

The main products imported from Russia are residues and waste from food industries, including oilcakes and feed components, oilseeds, animal or vegetable fats and oils, beverages and cereals. Exports from the EU to Russia include beverages, edible preparations, residues and waste from the food industry, oilseeds, live trees and other plants and cocoa.

Russia is a global exporter of sunflower oil, wheat and barley. In 2014, Russia banned certain agricultural products from the EU, Australia, Canada, Norway and the United States.

Herbert Dorfmann, the European People’s Party (EPP) group’s spokesman in the European Union Parliament’s agriculture committee, said the invasion calls for a food safety plan.

“The Russian attack on Ukraine will most likely strongly affect European food security and create difficulties for our agri-food markets. Some of the difficulties are part of the sanctions such as diminishing export of wines, fruit, vegetables and other food products,” he said.

“But an even more serious consequence is the disruption in the supply of wheat, soybeans, vegetable oils and chicken meat of which Ukraine is an important producer. We must give the European population the certainty that this war will not lead to empty plates in Europe. We can already see a disproportionate increase of the price of some agricultural products.”

COCERAL, FEDIOL and FEFAC reported that Ukraine exports about 60 million tons of grain worldwide. It was expected in the current marketing year that it would export about 33 million tons of corn and 24 million tons of wheat. For Europe, maize is the main imported product from Ukraine with a yearly average of 11 million tons plus about 2 million tons of sunflower oil.

COCERAL is the EU trade association for cereals, oilseeds, rice, pulses, olive oil, oils and fats and animal feed. FEDIOL is the EU vegetable oil and protein meal industry association and FEFAC represents feed manufacturers.

Monitoring and assistance
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has published a document with public health considerations to prevent and control infectious diseases.

About 100 to 200 cases of foodborne botulism are reported annually in Ukraine based on data from 2017 to 2020 with an increase in May to June. Outbreaks are often related to home-canned food such as mushrooms and meat as well as dried and or smoked fish. There is a low reported incidence of campylobacteriosis and salmonellosis increases in the summer months, with annual peaks seen in July to August but levels have been stable in recent years.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) European region, which includes both Ukraine and Russia, is also part of the response.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is helping to mitigate shortages of food and water in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, and the city of Kharkiv by distributing food assistance and with food vouchers that can be spent in some shops.

David Beasley, WFP executive director, said it is not just a crisis inside Ukraine.

“This is going to affect supply chains, and particularly the cost of food. Now we’re looking at a price hike that will cost us, in operational costs, anywhere from $60 million and $75 million more per month.”

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