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Global food safety debate comes to Belfast

Food safety experts from around the world will be at Queen's University Belfast this week (8-10 April) to highlight current and emerging threats to the integrity of the food chain.

The Food Integrity and Traceability Conference, organised by Queen's Institute for Global Food Security in partnership with safefood, will welcome over 300 scientists, regulators and agri-food producers from more than 25 countries.

International speakers will explore recent progress in delivering safe and authentic food to the consumer, the greatest threats to the integrity of the agri-food chain and how these can be tackled, and new technology to detect contamination and deter food fraud. The pros and cons of genetically modified (GM) food one of today's most contentious and divisive food issues will be discussed during a special debate on Wednesday 9 April.

Professor Chris Elliott, who is currently leading the independent review of Britain's food system for UK government, is Director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen's. He said: "The ability to protect the integrity of the food supply chain from 'farm to fork' is a massive challenge and one that is of utmost importance. While significant advances in science are helping reduce the risk of eating contaminated foods, the European-wide horsemeat scandal and the growing list of food product recalls due to contamination have highlighted that major gaps still exist in ensuring the food we consume is authentic and safe.

"Fortunately consumers in the UK and Ireland have access to perhaps the safest food in the world. Major scientific advancements are being made to help minimise risks to the food chain. Scientists at Queen's are at the forefront of these developments, working with the agri-food industry to develop the latest techniques to detect and deter food fraud. Many of these techniques will be discussed during the conference, which will build on the success of a similar event at Queen's in 2011."

The conference is jointly organised by Queen's and safefood, the North-South body responsible for the promotion of food safety on the island of Ireland. Dr Gary Kearney, Director, Food Science, safefood said: "The increase in the number of food scares and scandals such as the recent horsemeat fraud has had a negative impact on consumer confidence in the food supply chain. To enhance confidence and allay concerns, it is vital that the best science is utilised to help protect both consumers and the reputation of our food industry. Safe food is our future.

"This major international food safety conference will involve participants operating across all parts of the food chain and will facilitate the sharing of new technical developments and information from across the globe. A key outcome will be a demonstration of the benefits of joined-up thinking which is essential to the provision of safe food and protecting consumers on the island of Ireland."

Michelle O'Neill MLA, Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, said: "I have always championed our local produce. The quality, safety and provenance of our food is second to none. We need to work hard to maintain our excellent reputation, both on these islands and further afield. That means using the latest tools, systems and techniques to stay ahead of the game."

Keynote speakers include Professor Junshi Chen from the China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment, who will give an insight into the major food safety issues in China, and Ladislav Miko from the European Commission, who will explore issues of food safety throughout the European food chain.

Dr Mira Trebar, University of Ljubljana (Slovenia) will discuss the use of new technology, including smart phones, to deliver food traceability and authentication data directly to the consumer. Ms Kajal Devani from the Canadian Angus Association will present their DNA tracking system, which has proved both cost effective for their industry while strengthening consumer confidence.

Conference delegates and members of the public will have the opportunity to sample some of Northern Ireland's finest produce at a special FoodNI Artisans' Food Market on the front lawn of Queen's on the opening day of the conference (Tuesday 8 April).


Contact: Anne-Marie Clarke
Queen's University Belfast

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