Marrakesh, 28 January - The first
ever Global Forum of Food Safety Regulators opened today,
seeking ways to improve the safety of food worldwide at every
step of the food production chain - from farmers, through
processors and retailers, to consumers.
Over the next three days, some 300 participants from
120 countries and organizations will present and discuss their
successes and mistakes in fighting foodborne disease. Lessons
learned at the Global Forum will help countries improve their
food safety strategies and systems, and ultimately reduce the
large foodborne disease burden.
Participants will consider, among other issues, the
handling of food safety emergencies, tackling currently
identified and emerging microbiological and chemical hazards and
meeting the needs of developing countries.
New challenges in food safety have arisen as a result
of changes in microbiological and chemical hazards, shifts in
consumption patterns, urbanization, new food production methods,
modern technology and increases in international trade and
Foodborne disease is of great
concern. According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates,
more than 2 million people - principally children - die every
year from diarrhoea caused by consuming contaminated food and
water. Even in industrialized countries, as much as one-third of
the population experiences foodborne disease every year. Food
safety, a critical area of public health, is a high priority for
both WHO and FAO.
Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland,
WHO Director-General, said, "Many countries are
reporting significant increases in foodborne disease. We must
reflect on these trends. We must try to improve our food safety
systems, and avoid repeating past mistakes. WHO, together with
FAO and our Member States, are working hard to develop new
evidence-based, preventative strategies to lower disease risk
throughout the whole food production chain."
The main hazards are well identified and
there are proven, cost-effective measures that protect
populations against them. Some countries have intensified
efforts against certain pathogens, and have obtained good
results in five to ten years. The first step is for a government
to set food safety high on the political agenda.
Food safety problems can have serious consequences on
a country's economy. According to the United Kingdom's
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, gross public
expenditures as a result of the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
(Mad Cow disease) crisis were an estimated £3.4 billion from
1996-2000. Food safety problems hurt developing countries by
hindering their economic development. Food exports, an important
source of foreign exchange and revenue, are refused if they do
not meet the standards of importing countries resulting in the
loss of jobs in the food and agriculture industries of
developing countries. Productivity suffers in all sectors
because so many workers fall ill. International tourism cannot
achieve its full potential.
safety is a shared responsibility of developed and developing
countries," FAO Director-General Dr Jacques Diouf told
the Forum. "With the increasing globalization of trade
in food products, health requirements applied by importing
countries must seek to protect consumers and not to raise
technical barriers to trade."
Diouf urged "developed countries to provide the
developing countries with their technical and financial
The Global Forum will
help build international cooperation among countries on food
With the food supply becoming more global, no
country can solve food safety problems alone.
FAO and WHO jointly convened the Forum at the
recommendation of their member countries. The final communiqué
of the G-8 Summit, held in Okinawa, Japan in 2000, called on the
two UN agencies to "organize periodic international
meetings of food safety regulators..."