ACGT partners in international project on climate change and food safety

ACGT partner institutions, the CSIR and University of Pretoria – with the Agricultural Research Council, are the South African consortium members on the European Union (EU) funded VEG-i-TRADE project.

The project, which is being co-ordinated from the University of Gent in Belgium, provides platforms to identify impacts of anticipated climate changes on food safety as well as microbiological and chemical hazards of fresh produce. This multi-disciplinary project is aimed at developing control measures of a managerial and technological nature in the food chain of crop production, post-harvest processing and logistics to minimise food safety risks.

The CSIR Biosciences and Natural Resources and the Environment (NRE) units are both involved in the project and focus on DNA microarray techniques for predicting risk of mycotoxin contamination and the impact of climate change on food trade and safety, respectively. The University of Pretoria’s Department of Microbiology and Plant Pathology – represented by Prof Lise Korsten – will be looking at aspects of microbiological food contamination and trade.

The food safety challenges raised by climate-related changes highlight the need for timely scientific advice to guide risk management decisions. Some of these challenges include the transmission of infectious disease and factors associated with mycotoxin production, such as temperature and humidity. In addition, the impact of globalisation will also lead to extra requirements on the agricultural and processing sectors.

VEG-i-TRADE aims to develop recommendations on a European and global level for quality assurance and setting of performance objectives based on science. Activities include an assessment of the performance of horticultural food safety management systems exemplified by countries of northern, middle and southern Europe as well as on a global level – including major EU trade partners of fresh produce from various climate zones, such as South Africa. Other countries represented in the VEG-i-TRADE project consortium include Norway, Spain, The Netherlands, Thailand, Egypt and Yugoslavia.

It is expected that the project output will lead to a discussion forum for stakeholders in the global food chain to reflect on acceptable risk, the sustainability of fresh produce production and enable the development of a long term strategy on international food trade.