The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged countries to improve their capacity to respond to emergencies posed by natural, accidental and intentional contamination of food.
Addressing the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific in Shanghai, China, Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, said this will require greater emphasis on food safety, including the allocation of additional resources and greater sharing of information.
"Rapid globalization of food production and trade has increased the potential for international incidents involving food contamination with microbial or chemical hazards," said Dr Omi. "Reducing the risk of foodborne disease is achieved most effectively by targeted prevention throughout the production, processing and marketing chain and through greater cooperation and information sharing."
The Regional Committee is meeting from 13 to 17 September to review WHO's work and map future health directions. Over a hundred Representatives, including several health ministers from Member States, are attending the meeting.
Dr Omi raised three important issues on food safety:
- the emergence in Asia of zoonoses - diseases transmitted to humans from animals;
- the potential of terrorist threats to food and the importance of rapid sharing of information to fight against such threats; and
- the ongoing health and economic consequences of food contamination and foodborne illnesses in the Region.
Citing the recent outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza and the ongoing concerns with contaminated food in the Region, Dr Omi pointed out that, "If the risk of both foodborne disease and zoonoses are to be reduced, there needs to be close collaboration between health ministries and those responsible for agriculture and trade as well as comprehensive and integrated approach to food safety, with the producers, processors, traders and consumers all playing a role. Without a comprehensive and integrated approach along the food chain, food will be left unprotected and human health will be placed at risk."
Dr Omi further noted that cross-border concerns associated with both food safety and zoonoses must be tackled not only at the national level, but also through closer links amongst authorities at international and regional levels.
The Regional Committee urged Member States to:
- improve information sharing and cooperative action in relation to food safety and international and regional levels;
- ensure greater cooperation among ministries, producers, industry and consumers to address all aspects of food safety;
- pay immediate attention to human health aspects and regulate control of live birds and animals for food, to reduce the risk of emerging zoonoses giving rise to a new pandemic.
In support of its Member States, WHO will give greater emphasis to food safety at the regional level and build effective partnerships to better protect human health and more effectively control emerging zoonoses.