Food safety regulators meet in global effort to reduce the more than 2 billion cases of foodborne illness

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Faced with an increasing global burden of foodborne disease, more than 300 food safety regulators from over 100 countries will gather for the 2nd Global Forum of Food Safety Regulators from 12 to 14 October.

The largest-ever meeting of its kind, the Forum will bring together regulators from the health, agriculture and trade sectors. During the three days, participants will work to develop common understanding on how to strengthen food safety systems to better address increasingly complex foodborne threats to public health and safe food supplies.

Each year, unsafe food is responsible for illness in at least 2 billion people worldwide and can result in death. While some countries have made excellent strides in controlling the foodborne disease burden, globally, this number is growing.

While large foodborne outbreaks often receive the most media attention, the majority of the foodborne disease burden is linked to the many single cases occurring in all countries of the world. For example, some 700,000 people die every year in Asia alone due to individual cases of food- and water-borne disease that most often do not hit press headlines. Many more suffer long-term debilitation.

"The burden of death and disease from foodborne disease is huge, and yet, a better organization and communication between authorities along the entire food chain and with consumers, could significantly reduce it, making food safer for consumers around the world,” says WHO Assistant Director-General Dr Kerstin Leitner.

Hartwig de Haen, FAO Assistant Director-General, Economic and Social Department, says: “There are just too many threats to the safety of the world’s food supply, from the farmer’s field to the consumer’s table. Food safety regulators of the world need to intensify their collaboration to lessen the burden caused by foodborne diseases. The Bangkok meeting must strengthen efforts to implement more effective food control systems in all countries so as to better protect consumer health as well as minimize costs to farmers, food processors and retailers."

Threats to the food we eat can come from many sources: primary production, improper handling and storage, improper preparation and cooking in the home or in other places where food is consumed. Too often, these threats - their origins, their extent and their gravity - and the consequences on human health are inadequately addressed and managed by the various national and international authorities responsible for monitoring and regulating food production.

The first Global Meeting of Food Safety Regulators, which took place in Marrakech, Morocco, in January 2002, attended by representatives from 110 countries, it laid the foundation for improved cooperation in the global effort to protect the quality and safety of the world’s food supply. Lowering the burden of foodborne diseases and making food safer and more fit for local and international trade depends on improving food control systems and establishing effective surveillance mechanisms. The Bangkok Forum will address these areas of concern.

In-depth discussions will focus on defining the responsibilities and tasks of different groups involved in assuring food safety and on the role of the food industry and trade organizations in applying food quality and safety assurance systems. The implementation of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system to improve food safety is one example. Other areas regarding food control systems include developing effective import and export controls and certification mechanisms. Epidemiological-surveillance and rapid alert systems to more effectively tracking and preventing the spread of foodborne diseases will also need to be created.

The Forum will see the launch of several major initiatives led by FAO and WHO. One such specific initiative is a new global network of all food safety authorities, which has received major interest from Member States. So far, 102 countries have registered as participants in the network. The network (INFOSAN) will improve the ability of countries and authorities to respond jointly to food related emergencies.

An electronic portal to provide a single access point for authorized official international and national information across the sectors of food, animal and plant health will also be unveiled in Bangkok.

The 2nd Forum is further testimony to the importance that national and international authorities are according to food quality and safety. One example of the assistance provided to developing countries to help build their capacity in food safety regulation was the launch earlier this year in Paris of the Standard Trade Development Facility, by five international organizations, the World Bank, the World Organization for Animal Health and the World Trade Organization.

Press conferences are planned at the opening and closing of the Forum, on 12 and 14 October, at the United Nations Conference Centre (ESCAP) in Bangkok and side events during the Forum will provide in-depth briefings on the initiatives.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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