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Press Release 01/35

FAO ANNOUNCES NEW INITIATIVES TO IMPROVE FOOD SAFETY AND QUALITY


Rome, 1 June 2001.- A series of initiatives aimed at improving food safety and quality, following recent food safety incidents which have caused serious turmoil in the world food markets and raised concern among consumers, was announced today by the Assistant Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Hartwig de Haen.

At the Committee on World Food Security currently meeting in Rome (28 May - 1 June 2001), Mr. de Haen said: "Food safety and quality have become subjects of increased concern for consumers, producers and policy makers all over the world."

In collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), the FAO intends to convene a Global Forum on Food Safety Regulators in October 2001. The venue is yet to be determined. "The main purpose of the Global Forum is to promote the exchange of information and experience on how to deal with food safety issues of potential importance to public health and international food trade," Mr. de Haen underlined.

Experiences in the reduction of food-borne diseases, in establishing food-safety regulations and risk management procedures, in dealing with emerging food-borne illnesses, in new inspection models, in the implementation of the Codex Alimentarius standards and guidelines and transboundary consequences of food safety emergencies will be the main subjects on the agenda of the Global Forum on Food Safety Regulators, according to FAO.

The Global Forum will not be a decision making body, nor will it duplicate the work of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. It will bring together officials involved in the regulation of food safety and risk management from all over the world. In addition to international organizations, non-governmental organizations representing consumers, producers, the food industry and trade interests will also be involved in the discussions, FAO indicated.

In the meantime, a joint technical consultation on BSE (the mad cow disease) will take place shortly in Paris (11-14 June 2001) to review the scientific information available and address outstanding questions related to this animal disease and its transmission to humans in the form of a variant of the Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease. The joint technical consultation, organized by WHO, FAO and Office International des Epizooties (OIE), will focus on preventing a global spread of the disease and on protecting both human and livestock populations.

Another initiative launched by FAO and WHO is a Pan-European Conference on Food Safety and Quality to be held in Budapest from 18 to 21 February 2002. Its main objective is to promote the creation of a platform for mutual understanding of food safety and quality problems through institutional cooperation and exchange of information among European countries, according to FAO.

The Pan-European Conference will discuss the feasibility of establishing an information and communication system on food safety and animal and plant health including a rapid alert system.

The idea to convene a conference on food safety and quality for the entire European region was proposed by the Netherlands and endorsed at the last session of the FAO Regional Conference for Europe (Porto, July 2000). Similar conferences are being considered by FAO for other regions of the world.

In addition to the above, FAO and WHO are participating actively in a number of related initiatives sponsored by others such as the UK/OECD Conference on New Biotechnology Food and Crops: Science, Safety and Society which will take place in Bangkok in July 2001.

The quality and safety of the food supply are of increasing importance for developing countries as well. In response to this, the FAO recently proposed setting up a Food Safety and Quality Facility for the world's least developed countries (LDCs) establish the necessary institutional framework and infrastructure to improve the safety and quality of their food products and to participate more actively in the international standard setting bodies such as the Codex Alimentarius Commission.

The proposal was made at the third UN Conference on the LDCs (Brussels, 14-20 May 2001). The Facility will include a US$98 million trust fund. In addition to upgrading national food safety and quality systems, it would also assist poor countries to comply with the Codex Alimentarius standards and guidelines.

"Improving the safety, quality and sanitary standards of food products in the developing countries would significantly improve their export performance and, at the same time, protect consumers in both exporting and importing countries," according to FAO.

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For further information, please consult FAO website: http://www.fao.org or call FAO Media Office (tel.: 0039.06.57052232)


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