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Press Release 98/32






Tallinn, 25 May -- Problems of food quality and safety are hampering the growth of international food trade and are increasingly creating consumer concerns in Europe, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

"Food quality and safety issues have become a very important issue in trade," said John Lupien, Director of the FAO Nutrition Division, at the FAO Regional Conference for Europe in Tallinn. Ministers and senior government officials from around 40 countries are discussing food and agricultural issues during this five-day meeting (25-29 May).

"For example, there are indications that food products from Europe are being rejected due to food quality and safety problems. Figures released by the US Food and Drug Administration show that for the first months of 1998 around 770 shipments from 25 Western and Eastern European countries were rejected by the US," Lupien said.

"Products rejected were cheeses, vegetables, fruits and fruit juices, dried fruits and spices, bakery products, sweets, tea, coffee, mushrooms, soups, fish products and ceramic ware," Lupien said.

"The reasons for rejection were contamination with pathogenic bacteria (Listeria, Salmonella), failure to meet safety regulations for low-acid canned foods, non-permitted food additives, incorrect labeling, filth, excessive or non-permitted pesticide residues, non-permitted food colors, heavy metal contamination, and faulty packaging," Lupien explained. "Unfortunately information on the extent of such problems within European markets is not available. FAO therefore urges the European countries to collect and publish information about their food trade problems more regularly."

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that hundreds of millions of people world-wide annually suffer from diseases caused by contaminated food.

International food trade has grown to more than $400 billion per year and is expected to grow further. The European region is the largest importer and one of the largest exporters of agricultural and food products in the world, according to FAO.

"Countries have to improve their food control systems to benefit from trade growth, otherwise they will loose market shares and export earnings, " the FAO expert said.

According to FAO, in a number of European countries food legislation urgently needs to be revised and updated. "Food control administration, especially in the Central and Eastern European countries, is often fragmented, resulting in gaps or duplication of controls, the technical capacities are often limited," Lupien said. A particular challenge is to harmonise their food legislation with international requirements to protect consumers and improve the quality and safety of foods.

FAO called upon countries to participate fully in the work of the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission. To protect the health of consumers and to ensure fair practices in food trade Codex Alimentarius established international standards, residue limits, recommendations and guidelines for foods. The Codex Alimentarius Commission has now 162 members including 38 European countries.

FAO is assisting its member countries by providing technical advice on food control legislation, management and inspection. In 1996/97 FAO was involved in eight projects on food quality and safety in the subregion.




Related link: FAO Regional Conference for Europe.


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©FAO, 1998