Big Journeys, Big Data, Food Safety and Exposure – Reports from the field with Creme Global
Written by Robert Coyle
By Cian O’ Mahony, Head of Expert Modelling and Statistics
After a very successful inaugural Predict Conference in September, October has been another hectic month for us, this time with a lot of time spent on the road. Four weeks spent in four different parts of the world makes for a whole load of air miles and plenty of material for a blog article.
Week one was spent in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, teaching a course in GM food risk assessment as part of Better Train Safe Food (BTSF) program. This is a course run by the European Commission and given to the authorities in EU Member States responsible for food and feed safety (like the Food Safety Authority of Ireland or the Food Standards Agency in the UK). I teach the module in exposure assessment, which is a key part of the registration process for GM foods in the EU. I won’t get into the politics of the subject here (that is for another blog), but suffice to say controversy is inevitably always simmering below the surface with such a topic. Thankfully, my module is primarily focused on methodology and technical content, and I had a lively group for our case studies and examples. As ever, modelling and data analysis are the key tools for determining exposure.
Week two was spent in Washington DC, which given the number of regulatory bodies and industry associations we work with that are located there, is always a place on our itinerary. Conor McGauran (Head of Business Development at Creme Global) and I spent the week there with an agenda packed full of meetings with both existing and potential partners and clients.
Week three was spent at one of the key events in our calendar, International Society of Exposure Science (ISES) annual meeting in Henderson, Nevada. Always a highlight of my year, the meeting has been going from strength to strength in recent years with attendance increasing and exciting scientific programs being developed. This year’s program included three talks given by myself, two on the models and data in our upcoming pesticide exposure system for US consumer safety (CARES NG), and one as a part of symposium I chaired entitled “The Use and Implications of Big Data in Exposure Assessment” – a topic very dear to our hearts! This was also the first year we were proud conference supporters and we had an exhibitor stand which saw lots of traffic. On top of that I am also involved with the General Scientific Meetings Committee as part of the society. So another packed week to say the least!
Finally, week four was spent in a time zone 12 hours away from Nevada at the Dubai International Food Safety Conference. Here, Cronan McNamara, Creme Global CEO, and I had both a master class and a full day workshop on risk and exposure assessment for chemical food safety. The emerging food safety culture and regulation in the Gulf region is fascinating to watch. The rapid modernisation and urbanisation the region has seen in the last few decades, coupled with massive visitor traffic and a food supply that is over 90% imported, means that a modern and fit-for-purpose food safety infrastructure is vital to protect consumer health. It seems that food safety controversies that have long been debunked and discredited in the US and EU are rearing their ugly heads once more there. And I’m not talking about GMOs and nanoparticles; basic food chemical issues like food additives that have long been established as safe still dominate consumers’ concerns, with authorities obliged to respond. One of our workshop and symposium goals was to illustrate the importance of exposure in risk assessment; knowing that a potentially harmful chemical is present in food isn’t enough to assess risk – knowing the exposure is the key component in determining safety. The challenge now for the region is to generate the appropriate data specific to the area in order to accurately assess the safety of consumers there.
This week, my colleagues Conor and Cronan are in New Jersey at the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM) annual meeting where we will have a stand demonstrating the latest models and software we have developed for fragrance safety developed in partnership with RIFM and its members. Mercifully, I am back in the office for the whole month of November to remind my colleagues, friends and family what I look like (perhaps they prefer to forget). Stay tuned for the next field report on our adventures in data science!