Stories from Our Community

Bridging the Gap Between Science and Policy, for Safer Food

What’s the most important thing to know about the European Food Safety Authority, or EFSA? Well, one should first be aware that it exists!

Growing up in Europe, it’s easy to take food safety for granted. Before joining EFSA, I hardly thought about how the food I was eating was produced, processed, packaged, and labelled—much less questioned the risks along the food chain. In fact, I only discovered this organisation when I came back to Italy after my two years studying in Singapore, and was researching job opportunities in the EU system. This was when I found out there was an EU agency called EFSA just a couple of hours away from my hometown, applied to join them, and was accepted as an interim staff member on a two-month contract. It’s been over 1.5 years and I’m glad to still be with EFSA, doing work that I find meaningful.

For now, I’m based in Parma, a city in the Italian ‘Food Valley’ famous for the Parmesan cheese and Parmaham. But the reality is that I carry out my work at EFSA across different cultures and timezones. As a member of EFSA’s strategic engagement team, I focus on international cooperation, helping the agency develop close working relationships with third country authorities and multilateral organisations. This is important because food safety issues are also global issues, as they are tied into international trade, travel, migration, and even climate change.

I like to think of myself as a ‘science diplomat,’ and part of my role is to ensure that the science behind food safety isn’t lost in translation. However, as my background is in political science and international affairs, filling my knowledge gaps wasn’t easy in the beginning. Getting through an intensive toxicology course a few months into the new job is still one of the achievements I am most proud of!

Having been trained in the language of science, my team liaises between our EFSA experts and their counterparts around the world. But we don’t simply share our research as it is—we also consider every country’s political priorities, cultural differences, and the nuances of the lingua franca, and craft our communication materials accordingly.

Currently, I’m assisting with preparations for the ONE Conference 2022, which, among other things, will examine food safety from a “One Health” perspective. This is the idea that the health of humans, animals, and the environment are inextricably linked. In order to address this comprehensive definition of health, organisations active in different countries and sectors will need to find better ways to cooperate and coordinate their efforts.

As an aspiring science diplomat, it’s my job to step back and look at how everything is relevant and connected in the bigger picture of creating a sustainable future. The ability to see things from different perspectives was a skill that I picked up at the LKY School, because it gave me exposure to a diversity of perceptions and opinions that I had never experienced before.

In my MIA cohort, I was the only European student, with most of my classmates coming from different Asian countries. I tried my best to transcend my expectations and assumptions about a part of the world that was fairly new to me, and take the time to better understand the views and experiences of those who have grown up in Asia. We moved from the initial small talk to many interesting conversations about the state of the world today. I learned a lot, and what inspired me most about my classmates was their sense of conviction that the future can be better than the past.

It’s a mindset that I’ve tried to bring home with me to Italy, and it’s influenced the way that I approach my work. For instance, we might feel that everything we’re doing now is focussed on avoiding disasters, such as big foodborne outbreaks or the next pandemic. But to frame our mission in a more hopeful way, we could talk about making our food systems more sustainable, by creating a healthier relationship between the planet and its inhabitants. In this way, we’re not just working hard to prevent a tragedy, but working towards a better future.

I believe this is how we can draw more people to our cause, and build a greater momentum for change.