FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO) are urging all countries
to strengthen their food safety systems and to be far more vigilant
with food producers and traders.
Recent food safety incidents, like the discovery of the industrial
chemical melamine in animal and fish feed, or the unauthorized
use of certain veterinary drugs in intensive aquaculture, can affect
health and often lead to rejections of food products in international
Such food safety incidents are often caused by lack of knowledge
of food safety requirements and of their implications, or by the
illegal or fraudulent use of ingredients including unauthorised
food additives or veterinary drugs.
During the last 12 months, an average of up to 200 food safety
incidents per month have been investigated by WHO and FAO to determine
their public health impact.
Information about food safety incidents of international significance
was shared with countries through the International Food Safety
Authorities Network (INFOSAN).
"Food safety is an issue for every country and ultimately
every food consumer. All countries can benefit from taking stronger
measures to fill safety gaps in the sometimes considerable journey
food takes from the farm to the table," said Jørgen
Schlundt, Director of WHO's Department of Food Safety, Zoonoses
and Foodborne Diseases.
“Countries are only able to keep their shares in globalized
food markets and the trust of consumers if they apply internationally
agreed food quality and safety standards,” said Ezzeddine
Boutrif, Director of FAO’s Nutrition and Consumer Protection
Division. “Consumers have a right to be informed about potential
hazards in food and to be protected against them.”
Inadequate food safety systems
Weak food safety systems can lead to a higher incidence of food
safety problems and diseases caused by micro-organisms such as
Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter, and Listeria, by residues of
agricultural chemicals (pesticides, veterinary drugs, etc) and
by the use of unauthorized food additives. Diarrhoeal diseases
alone, due mainly to unsafe food and water, kill 1.8 million children
Food production systems in developing countries are facing a series
of challenges: population growth and urbanization, changing dietary
patterns, intensification and industrialization of food and agricultural
production. Climate conditions, poor sanitation and weak public
infrastructure compound these difficulties.
Food safety legislation in many developing countries is often
incomplete or obsolete or not in line with international requirements.
Responsibility for food safety and control tends to be dispersed
across many institutions. Laboratories lack essential equipment
Many developed countries are in similar situations with fragmented
food safety systems that often do not include or cover primary
production where many food safety issues originate. For example
the spread in recent years of new Salmonella strains in poultry
originated in developed countries and was spread globally through
In order to ensure safe food production for their own consumers
and to meet international sanitary and phytosanitary requirements
for food exports, national food safety authorities should be more
vigilant. Producers and traders should be held accountable for
safe food production throughout the food chain.
The rules of the World Trade Organization stipulate that developed
countries help exporting developing countries to achieve the necessary
high level of food safety for international trade. This assistance
should contribute to building or strengthening integrated national
food safety systems covering the entire food chain. This often
requires long-term multi-billion dollar investments and technical
Supporting food safety
FAO and WHO are supporting national governments to improve the
institutional set up and the performance of food inspection, enforcement,
laboratory analysis and diagnosis, certification, food-borne disease
surveillance, emergency preparedness and response. They also provide
scientific advice on many food safety issues such as food additives,
chemical and microbiological contaminants, and agro-chemical residues.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission established by FAO and WHO develops
science and risk based food safety standards that are a reference
in international trade and a model for countries to use in their
legislation. The application of these standards and guidelines
would ensure food safety and consumer protection.
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