Active for 13 years, the European Association for Food Safety, the SAFE consortium, bills itself as a platform of research bodies. “Our 10 organizational members include institutes, universities, and national and international societies and research groups and departments within these institutions,” says Katherine Flynn, PhD, SAFE’s scientific secretary.
Established in 2002 and based in Brussels, Belgium, SAFE is an international non-profit organization that acts as an independent spokesman for food safety research in Europe, ultimately for the benefit of the public, Dr. Flynn points out.
The mission of the SAFE consortium is to stimulate the public debate in Europe on the scientific aspects of food safety, by making available up-to-date knowledge from institutes whose scientific integrity is guaranteed by the unlimited right to publish in the public interest.
“SAFE’s member organizations work together to influence food safety research programming in the EU, and they also develop and promote interdisciplinary research projects and partnerships,” says Oddur M. Gunnarsson, SAFE’s secretary general. “This requires a strategic assessment of research trends in food safety and a high degree of interaction with the European Commission (EC) and its institutions, European and national food safety authorities, and academia.”
According to Dr. Flynn and Mr. Gunnarsson, the products and services of the consortium can be consulting activities, larger projects and programs within the EC Framework Programmes, and organization of seminars and workshops with related publications or position papers on food safety issues and research priorities.
“We are very proud that SAFE was invited by the EC to be a stakeholder consultant and to provide input on the Horizon 2020 Science with and for Society 2016-2017 Work Programme,” Dr. Flynn mentions, noting that this Work Programme influences policy for research in Europe.
“The geographical ‘operating area’ of the SAFE consortium includes all of the EU, including the candidate member states and countries, such as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, etc.,” Dr. Flynn relates. “We also have some individual members from outside of the EU, which are fully active within the scientific framework programs of the Union.”
Both organizations and individuals hold memberships in SAFE. “The scientists employed by our organizational members enjoy a free ‘individual membership,’” Dr. Flynn says. “Alternately, individuals at non-member organizations may join SAFE alone, for a limited time, as a way for their organization to ‘check out’ the consortium. We encourage individual membership from scientists at our member organizations as a way to have a bottom up participation in SAFE; those scientists who are interested join and they are the ones who run the consortium.”
According to Dr. Flynn, SAFE currently boasts 100+ individual members. Members pay yearly dues based on the size and location of the organization.
The annual general meeting (AGM) of the members is the governing body of the SAFE consortium. The AGM decides on the general policy of the consortium and oversees the management of the consortium by its executive board, which is responsible for the management of the affairs of the consortium between the AGMs. A secretary general and small staff, including Dr. Flynn, manage the consortium from the Brussels headquarters.
Begoña Pérez Villarreal, business director of AZTI-Tecnalia’s Food Research Division in Spain and chair of the SAFE consortium executive board, is quick to extol what she believes is the importance of SAFE’s work.
“Food safety is not negotiable,” she emphasizes. “The social, political, and economic consequences of a loss of focus on the importance of food safety would not be acceptable. The SAFE consortium published a widely read white paper in 2013, ‘Keeping Food Safety on the Agenda,’ and that title sums up our position. We want to keep industry, regulators, government, funding bodies, research organizations, consumer groups, and the general public thinking about food safety.”