France has a unique food safety system that achieves a complete separation between risk assessment (by ANSES, the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety) and risk management (by the Ministry of Agriculture, the French Directorate General for Food (DGAL) for food of animal origin, and by the Ministry of Economics, the French Directorate General for Consumption, Competition, and Fraud (DGCCRF) for food of non-animal origin).
The French food safety system is traditionally based on several principles, including:
- A separation between risk assessment and risk management
- A single chain of command, based in Paris
- An integrated “field to fork” approach
- Operator responsibility (producers, processors and distributors)
- Constant adjustment of regulations to take into account sanitary science and technology developments, as well as the expectations of civil society
- Official approval and inspection of premises (food and feed) under the responsibility of public official services
- Product identification and traceability
- A national alert network and a European alert network to ensure a continuous sanitary monitoring and a quick and effective mobilization when there is a potential danger
- The ability of the authorities to manage risks, especially in emergencies, on the basis of an adapted regulation system.
Health risk assessment by ANSES
The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) is an independent scientific body founded in July 2010. Its central role is to assess health risk in order to inform public policy and thus help to ensure the safety of workers and consumers. ANSES is active in the fields of occupational health, the environment and health, food safety, animal health and welfare, and plant health. ANSES is a public authority reporting to the Ministries of Health, Agriculture, the Environment, Labor, and Consumer Affairs.
ANSES assesses the nutritional and functional properties of food, as well as the risks to which humans may be exposed through work, and the environment. The Agency informs the competent authorities, responds to their requests for expert appraisals, and alerts them in the event of health crises.
It also has a jurisdiction in the field of veterinary medicinal products. It is the one and only exceptional case where the ANSES plays a role in setting health policy via the French Agency for Veterinary Medicinal Products (ANMV).
Lastly, it assesses pesticides and biocides before they can be placed on the market, as well as chemicals under the European regulation.
ANSES’s core activity is health risk assessment in order to inform public policy-making. This is based on independent, pluralistic scientific expert appraisals undertaken by groups of experts made up of external scientists.
This key mission is sustained by the knowledge generated by the Agency’s monitoring, research and reference activities. In return, risk assessment guides the monitoring activities and helps identify new research themes.
Except when required to respect confidential information protected by law, opinions and recommendations are published on ANSES website.
To carry out these various activities, the Agency relies on 12 reference and research laboratories, located at 16 different sites throughout France. Their missions include expertise, epidemiological surveillance, early warning and scientific and technical consultancy. They thus play a fundamental role in qualifying hazards by collecting data from the network of accredited research laboratories.
In addition, ANSES works in partnership with many external bodies, including health agencies, major French and international research institutions and public laboratories. Representatives of the civil society and the State, as well as associations, professional bodies and trade unions, help to define ANSES work programs, and can call on it for issues that concern them.
Key figures of ANSES:
– 1,350 staff
– 800 external experts solicited through its scientific panels
– An annual budget of 130 million euros
– More than 8,000 opinions issued since 1999
– 250 scientific publications per year
– 12 laboratories on 16 sites
– 80 national, European and international laboratory mandates
– More than 100 doctoral and post-doctoral students
– 5 million euros per year allotted to support research projects
Risk management is the competency of the government, which decides on regulation on the basis of the risk assessment provided by ANSES. With the exception of veterinary medicinal products, ANSES does not set health policy or regulation.
The French system has a single chain of command based in Paris: The French Directorate General for Food (DGAL), for food of animal origin and the French Directorate General for Competition, Consumer affairs and Fraud Control (DGCCRF), for food of non-animal origin.
The organization of the DGAL and the details of the “field to fork” approach are described in our precedent article: “From Field to Fork”: Sanitary Controls on Food in France
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