Research Director's Review

"Scientific research forms a small but important part of the activities of the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira", says Professor Liisa Sihvonen, DVM, Ph.D.

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Introducing Pia Mäkelä, the new Director of the Research and Laboratory Department

Professor Pia Mäkelä, DVM, Ph.D., was appointed as Director of the Research and Laboratory Department as of 16 January 2014.

» Read more

Research and Laboratory Department

The Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira's Research and Laboratory Department produces reliable information for control and for the use of decision-makers and researchers.

» Read more

Chemistry and Toxicology Research Unit

The research conducted by the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira's Chemistry and Toxicology Research Unit contributes to the management of chemical hazards and nutritional factors in the food supply chain.

» Read more

Bayesian modelling as a tool for risk assessment

Introducing Docent Jukka Ranta, Ph.D., Senior Researcher in the Risk Assessment Research Unit at Evira. The modelling of food safety risks is a relatively recent and minor research area in Finland. Senior Researcher Jukka Ranta of the Risk Assessment Unit has been able to use new approaches based on Bayesian methods in his research into food risk assessment by applying them to evidence-based risk calculation that combines several sets of data.

» Read more

Evira’s fish virus research is important for both fish health and legislation

Introducing Head of the Veterinary Virology Research Unit at Evira Tuija Gadd, DVM, Ph.D. In international comparisons, the fish disease situation in Finland is good. However, there is a threat of exotic diseases, previously unknown in Finland, spreading via imported fish to wild host fish or fish farms.

» Read more

Evira's research publications

Evira conducts scientific research in cooperation with universities, international research institutions and national sector research institutions, making use of existing international and national research networks.

» Read more

Evira science events

The Evira Science Day and research seminars have established their position in the dissemination of information on research activities and results for the industry, students and the scientific community.

» Read more

 
© Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira, Mustialankatu 3, FI-00790 Helsinki Finland
Scientific News from Evira
 

Research Director's Review

"Scientific research forms a small but important part of the activities of the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira", says Professor Liisa Sihvonen, DVM, Ph.D.

Evira aims to conduct high-quality scientific research related to the safety, composition and quality of food, the health of animals and plants and the welfare of animals, in sectors corresponding to the authority’s goals.

Scientific research at Evira is linked with its duties and influence in society. Users of Evira’s research data include both national actors and the international scientific community. Hence, its research and development must benefit the needs of society and decision-making. The social impact of research must always be taken into account as well.

Evira has renewed the scientific research action plan. Food safety and quality research is directed at the entire food chain, and focuses on microbiological and chemical research. In Finland, research into animal health and welfare concentrates on significant diseases among production and wild animals, with an emphasis on contagious diseases, health care and welfare. In plant health, the focus is on harmful pests.

The action plan is based on the renewed strategy, in which scientific research plays an important role: In Evira’s values, expertise is based on research data.

 
© Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira, Mustialankatu 3, FI-00790 Helsinki Finland
 

Introducing Pia Mäkelä, the new Director of the Research and Laboratory Department

Professor Pia Mäkelä, DVM, Ph.D., was appointed as Director of the Research and Laboratory Department as of 16 January 2014.

Pia Mäkelä came to Evira from the Biological Monitoring Unit of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Mäkelä joined EFSA in its early days to head a unit responsible for zoonoses, antibiotic resistance and the collection and analysis of information on food poisoning. All this will come in useful at Evira.

“I enjoy returning to the national level,” Director Pia Mäkelä says. Although she spent 14 years abroad, Mäkelä does not consider herself a stranger in her new position.

“As a veterinarian and former veterinary officer, I have a pretty good understanding of the activities of the research and laboratory department with regard to food and animal diseases. Of course, I also already know some of Evira’s staff. I am less familiar with the plant sector, which makes it a particularly interesting area for me. Naturally, I have a thorough understanding of risk assessment on the basis of my work in EFSA,” adds Mäkelä.

Mäkelä says she is particularly interested in organisations and administrative and management models, including their application in practice. This is what motivated her to apply for the position of director.

In Mäkelä’s view, Evira has effectively combined research and control, and the authority is widely respected in other countries. Mäkelä believes that the strength of her new department lies in the wealth of its staff’s expertise and competence in different fields.

 
© Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira, Mustialankatu 3, FI-00790 Helsinki Finland
 

Research and Laboratory Department

The Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira's Research and Laboratory Department produces reliable information for control and for the use of decision-makers and researchers.

The Research and Laboratory Delartment supports Evira's goal of ensuring the safety of food, promoting the health of animals and plants and the welfare of animals as well as ensuring the preconditions of plant and animal production. The work of the department involves scientific research, risk assessment and expert activities. Evira is also responsible for extensive reference laboratory operations.

Evira’s health-related studies are conducted on production, non-professional and wild animals. The aim of animal disease examinations is to monitor the animal disease situations in Finland and to anticipate new animal disease threats and diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans. A considerable part of animal disease examinations are related to the identification of the causes of disease and solving disease problems on farms.

Food safety research is conducted on foods, their ingredients and animal feed and fertilisers. Microbiological studies of foods are used to analyse pathogen microbes transmitted through food and animals, and their antibiotic resistance. Microbiological studies related to food poisoning focus on determining the origin of bacterial strains that cause epidemics.

The majority of the chemical analyses of food are related to national contamination control, according to which studies are conducted on residues of drugs and pesticides, environmental contaminants and banned growth promoters, among others. In addition, we conduct analyses on nutritional quality, composition and authenticity.

Plant analysis is related to the analysis of the quality for use and safety of grain, as well as the analysis of seeds, the quality of seed potatoes and plant diseases. Plant analysis includes the identification of harmful pests subject to control in farm, forest and garden plants, and the examination of imported timber and wooden packaging materials.

 
© Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira, Mustialankatu 3, FI-00790 Helsinki Finland
 

Chemistry and Toxicology Research Unit

The research conducted by the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira's Chemistry and Toxicology Research Unit contributes to the management of chemical hazards and nutritional factors in the food supply chain.

The Chemistry and Toxicology Research Unit maintains extensive research cooperation with other sectoral research institutions, universities and higher education establishments through a variety of research projects. The Research Unit actively collaborates with several universities, providing graduate students with the opportunity to conduct doctoral research.

Chemistry and Toxicology Research Unit projects

The Research Unit undertakes research primarily with external funding. Financers include the Academy of Finland, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation (Tekes) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, as well as EU's research programmes.

The research unit has five major research projects under way in 2014. Two of the projects, soon to be completed, are related to food safety and the toxicity, metabolism and occurrence of mycotoxins.

In particular, the Research Unit's largest research project is titled: 'The application of modern molecular methods to the study of the mechanisms of commonly occurring Fusarium avenaceum mycotoxins'. The other project related to mycotoxins is 'Improved analytical tools for the detection of harmful food components'.

In addition, a nutrition-related Total Diet Study project aims to harmonise the methods for collecting information on food-based exposure, while the Fineli® project will update the Finnish Food Composition Database.

Finally, the neonicotinoids project studies the effect of the use of these substances on bees and other pollinators in the protection of oleiferous plants in Finland.

The outside world and its developments are also reflected in the activities of the Chemistry and Toxicology Research Unit. New research areas related to social changes include the authenticity of food and fraud issues.

In the long term, global warming occurring as a result of climate change may pose new challenges to the research and analytics related to food safety, for example in the study of the occurrence of new mycotoxins in cereal grains and their analysis. The Research Unit has acquired solid expertise and experience in mycotoxin research over a number of years.

In the short term, however, our challenges are more often related to everyday life than to scientific research. For example, in the event of a food scandal, Evira is able to respond to the situation quickly by providing or creating the necessary analytical methods.

Find out more about the on-going research projects at the Chemistry and Toxicology Research Unit in the section Chemical food safety

 
© Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira, Mustialankatu 3, FI-00790 Helsinki Finland
 

Bayesian modelling as a tool for risk assessment

Introducing Docent Jukka Ranta, Ph.D., Senior Researcher in the Risk Assessment Research Unit at Evira.

The modelling of food safety risks is a relatively recent and minor research area in Finland. Senior Researcher Jukka Ranta of the Risk Assessment Unit has been able to use new approaches based on Bayesian methods in his research into food risk assessment by applying them to evidence-based risk calculation that combines several sets of data.

The potential of computational methods soared in the 1990s, opening up new approaches based on Bayesian methods to interesting application problems in epidemiology and biosciences, for example. This has interested Ranta since his master's thesis on stochastic epidemic models (1994), and the risk assessment of food is a natural continuation of this.

The Risk Assessment Research Unit was created, in part, to respond to the need for the production of processed data to support national decision-making.

“The combination of Bayesian methods and applications and the discovery of new information at their interface is interesting. There is always something new to find,” says Ranta. According to Ranta, it is inspiring and challenging to separate the general structure from the details and to shape it into a feasible mathematical form, whose dependencies can be estimated. Ranta is motivated by taking the modelling ideas into new applications to support decision-making, sometimes on a very large scale, both at a national and international level. The national results of different countries are compared and evaluated at institutions such as EFSA. Developing his own modelling skills and those of his colleagues in the research unit is also important for him to ensure the completeness and continuity of the research.

Sometimes, the research career of a mathematician and risk assessor can be a bit of a lonely wrestling match with theories. “Advice for the most difficult modelling problems can only be provided by other statistics experts, who are not readily available – if at all,” remarks Ranta. Ranta’s current key tasks include the completion of the ongoing projects and the formulation of new problems to be modelled.

Looking to the future, Ranta believes that evolving areas include the analysis and modelling of data and data pools, the synthesis of different data sets, and the refinement of data in these data sets into knowledge.

“As the amount of data grows and its interpretation and structures become more complex, it becomes necessary to analyse it in more detail and also to evaluate the uncertainty of the findings,” says Ranta.

Bayesian modelling is used in a growing number of areas. According to Ranta, there is still untapped potential in it that has not been fully understood. It is, therefore, wise to identify favourable applications. Not everything can be solved with models.

“This requires the purposeful development of resources for method research, networking, the training of researchers, and a long-term strategy which focuses on the quality of scientific research and monitors development”, explains Ranta.

 
© Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira, Mustialankatu 3, FI-00790 Helsinki Finland
 

Evira’s fish virus research is important for both fish health and legislation

Introducing Head of the Veterinary Virology Research Unit at Evira Tuija Gadd, DVM, Ph.D.

In international comparisons, the fish disease situation in Finland is good. However, there is a threat of exotic diseases, previously unknown in Finland, spreading via imported fish to wild host fish or fish farms.

Evira’s fish virus research prevents new situations from taking us unawares. Research conducted in Finland is the only source of information on the behaviour of various pathogens in Finnish conditions. Evira’s fish disease research also produces reliable research data in support of domestic and international decision-making and legislation.

Evira’s most recent doctoral thesis on fish viruses was completed in a research project on nationally significant virus diseases threatening Finland. The thesis forms an important part of the animal health and welfare studies.

Doctoral thesis by Tuija Gadd, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine “Fish rhabdoviruses: Viral haemorrhagic septicaemia virus (VHSV) and perch rhabdovirus (PRV): Study of viral strains and the disease epidemiology in Finland” (2013).

Gadd was not originally a viral disease researcher. Her advanced studies were conducted at the Department of Serobacteriology under the supervision of the late Professor Helvi Vasenius on the topic ‘Salmonella in pets’ (1987) Her positive experiences in research inspired her to take up research as a more permanent pursuit.

Tuija Gadd developed an interest in fish viruses after obtaining a position at the National Veterinary and Food Research Institute (EELA) in 2003, with a responsibility for fish viruses. This opened a more permanent research career for Tuija Gadd.

“Because VHS disease had first been observed in Finland in 2000, and research was immediately begun on it, it was natural for me to become involved in that research," says

Tuija Gadd acts as Director of the Veterinary Virology Research Unit and is actively involved in research. She is the responsible project leader of the ‘Viral diseases relevant to the fish industry in Finland’ project, the aim of which is to increase scientific and practical research cooperation on the viral diseases of fish, in particular farmed fish, in Finland and abroad.

When asked about the highlights of her career, she unhesitatingly responds that it was the completion of her doctoral thesis.

“Highlights naturally also include the completion and approval of publications”, adds Gadd, although she sometimes feels that the publication of research results is painfully slow and difficult.

Gadd considers her research career to be enriching, as the discovery and detection of new things and, hence, deepening her own knowledge is important to her. In the future, she hopes to continue to do research on the viral diseases of animals.

 
© Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira, Mustialankatu 3, FI-00790 Helsinki Finland
 

Evira's research publications

Evira conducts scientific research in cooperation with universities, international research institutions and national sector research institutions, making use of existing international and national research networks.

Evira also participates in new research networks that support the authority’s scientific research.

Here, you can familiarise yourself with our wide range of research publications 2014

In the year 2014 a total of three doctoral theses were completed.

 
© Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira, Mustialankatu 3, FI-00790 Helsinki Finland
 

Evira science events

The Evira Science Day and research seminars have established their position in the dissemination of information on research activities and results for the industry, students and the scientific community.

The events also serve as training events not only for Evira’s own staff, but also for veterinary science and food industry students as well as for those working in the industry.

Read more about Research Seminars 2014 and Evira Science Day 2014

 
© Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira, Mustialankatu 3, FI-00790 Helsinki Finland