The UK's food safety regulator says it will use more social science studies to determine priorities for reducing foodborne illness, increasing healthy eating and targeting enforcement measures.
The strategy is presented in an updated programme, published this week, for scientific research over the next five years.
The strategy presents an outline for processors on the issues on which the Food Standards Agency (FSA) plans to concentrate its research funding. The FSA was established to bring down incidents of foodborne disease in the UK.
The FSA says it is very close to its target of reducing incidents of foodborne disease by 20 per cent this year. To achieve further reductions in foodborne disease by 2010 the FSA wants to ensure that all sectors of the food chain control their procedures effectively to prevent harmful micro-organisms from contaminating food.
The results of research into practical control measures will play an important part in the FSA's targets.
The FSA wants to achieve a 50 per cent reduction in the incidence of Campylobacter in UK chickens. The FSA also set a 50 per cent reduction target for Salmonella in pig meat by 2010.
The FSA also wants to use research to identify new measures for slaughterhouse hygiene by 2007. This will allow plants to monitor hygiene measures and where necessary improve their performance.
The plan commits the agency to improving access to and use of the social sciences to support the delivery of the FSA's aims. This includes the use of social sciences research on foodborne illness, healthy eating and enforcement.
"We will develop our access to and use of social sciences for all of our themes, for example to identify and evaluate effective practical approaches to promoting healthy eating and food hygiene behaviours, and effective and proportionate food controls and enforcement," the FSA stated. "This will complement our wider work to engage with consumers and other stakeholders to seek their views and discuss our work."
In addition to continuing work on nanotechnologies and biotechnology, the FSA plans to look into the use of information technology, sustainability, changes in agricultural practices and food production; increasing globalisation and international trade, concerns around food security and terrorism, and developments in European and international research.
"There are many wider issues that may affect our work in and across these themes," the FSA stated. "We will need to keep track of these issues and the potential opportunities and threats they may present."
The FSA forecasts that issues over chemicals in foods are likely to grow in importance over the next five year.
The FSA plans to complete by the end of this year social surveys on the uptake of the best practice advice the agency issued on clear labelling, origin declarations, and the use of terms like "fresh".
It plans to review the effectiveness of the impact of this advice. It will also conduct research to assess consumer demand for specific rules on labelling of pesticides use on crops after they have been harvested.
The FSA also plans to continue to develop methods to verify traceability systems, and claims about production practices, species and geographic origin.
The FSA estimates that infectious intestinal diseases in the UK cost the country an estimated £1.5bn in 2000.
Under the Food Standards Act of 1999, the FSA's primary aim is to "protect public health from risks which may arise in connection with the consumption of food and otherwise protect the interests of consumers in relation to food."
The agency is also responsible for developing and implementing policy in the UK onall issues affecting the safety, composition, labelling and nutritional value offoods.