High standards of safety in the production of Danish food give both customers and consumers confidence that every possible effort has been made to deliver safe and nutritious food. Ensuring food safety is a complex issue as it involves all stages of a fully comprehensive production chain.

As no chain is stronger than its weakest link, all stages of the production process must be managed with regard to all types of risks - biological, chemical or physical. The safe production of food, therefore, demands attention to detail combined with a holistic approach to risk.

Danish food safety legislation often exceeds that of other EU Member States – with full support of the industry. However, fulfilling legal requirements is only part of a wider remit to deliver the safest food to demanding customers worldwide. Even the most rigorous legislation cannot embrace all the complexities of food safety. The delivery of high standards of food safety requires the industry itself to take the initiative in embracing a wholly responsible attitude.

Foto: Mads Armgaard

Food safety – how we achieve it

The Danish commitment to producing safe food is widely recognised and has been achieved through co-operation between farmers, the food industry and authorities, backed by an extensive programme of research and development. Although strict controls have been a hallmark of the Danish approach, the industry has often been in advance of new food safety legislation. A good example is the Danish Salmonella Action Plans for pig meat, beef, poultry and eggs, which operate at each stage of the production chain and have been in operation since 1995.

At farm level, many strategies have been implemented to maintain healthy herds. Such programmes reduce the presence of zoonoses as well as imposing strict bio security measures to prevent any spread of animal disease. Many Danish producers have a formal Health Advisory Agreement with their local veterinarian. A strategy is also in place to eliminate any unnecessary use of veterinary medicines. A high level of animal health therefore coexists with one of the lowest usages of medication among major livestock producing countries. The use of pesticides on all crops, including those grown for feed, is also strictly controlled by legislation. Extensive surveillance programmes confirm that residues in Danish meat are virtually non-existent.

All abattoirs have implemented self-audit programmes, supervised by the authorities and based on detailed risk assessment procedures linked to Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP). Through industry-led initiatives, such as the Global Red Meat Standard (GRMS), Danish abattoirs have set even higher standards than those required by legislation. Extensive training programmes for managers and employees as well as independent control measures ensure that these higher standards are properly implemented.

For some years there has been growing public concern about the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Although a separate issue is the use of antibiotics in the human population, the Danish agricultural industry acknowledges its responsibility to minimise the use of antibiotics in the rearing of its livestock. In addition to the initiatives taken to reduce use of veterinary medicines, the industry also stopped the use of all antibiotic growth promoters in 2000, six years ahead of the ban implemented across all EU Member States.

Risk analysis

Risk analysis is an international standard methodology to determine the consequences of specified actions, for example importation of living animals. Risk analysis consists of 4 elements:

  • Hazard identification
  • Risk assessment
  • Risk management
  • Risk communication

The Danish Agriculture and Food Council carries out risk analysis according to international standards laid down by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and Codex Alimentarius.

Risk analysis can be used for many issues within the veterinary area, but the Danish Agriculture and Food Council is focusing mainly on two specific areas:

  • Livestock diseases (e.g. introduction of exotic diseases through imports)
  • Food safety (e.g. appearance of zoonotic agents in meat)

In recent years the sector has built up a competence in risk analysis. This has often been achieved by managing acute problems as they presented themselves. Risk assessments regarding food safety have also been carried out in connection with negotiations with the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries.

Risk assessments and simulations are also performed in a research context regarding the introduction and spread of infectious livestock diseases.

There is increasing focus on the design of risk based surveillance systems to secure that action against zoonoses and infectious diseases is taken there where the risk is greatest – to ensure a cost-effective surveillance.

The economic analysis of the utility value of measures, both within meat production and food product safety, is of significant value in the optimal allocation of resources. For this purpose cost-effective analyses of major control measures and monitoring programmes are carried out.