Budapest, 25 February 2002 - Food
safety and quality need to be improved in all European countries
because foodborne diseases have increased considerably in the
region in the past decade, the UN Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) said
in a joint statement issued today. On the rise in particular are
diseases from microbiological hazards such as Salmonella and
Campylobacter and cases of foods contaminated by chemical
hazards, such as dioxin, lead and cadmium, according to the two
The statement was issued on the opening day of the
First Pan-European Conference on Food Safety and Quality in
Budapest. Food safety experts from more than 40 countries,
including food producers and consumers' associations from
Western, Central and Eastern Europe and other countries in
transition are meeting in Budapest (25-28 February) to discuss
how to improve food safety and strengthen consumer confidence
after recent food scares.
The meeting is
jointly organized by FAO and WHO. It is co-sponsored by the
European Community and some FAO/WHO member countries.
"While food has never been safer
than it is today in Europe, but this should not lead us to
complacency. Better monitoring systems are revealing more and
more cases of food-borne illness. The number of people suffering
from food-borne diseases or even die from them is still far too
high," said Hartwig de Haen, FAO Assistant
that, worldwide, thousands of millions of cases of food-borne
disease occur every year. As many as one person in three in
industrialized countries may be affected by foodborne illness
each year, resulting in human suffering and economic losses
running into billions of US dollars. Particularly at risk are
children, pregnant women, the sick, the poor and the
elderly," said Dr David Nabarro, WHO Executive
"The consumer has the
right to safe food in all European countries. Food safety
'from farm to fork' needs to be ensured throughout the
region. To save costs and prevent contamination, food safety
must begin with good agricultural practices," de Haen
National policies and regulations
on food safety and quality are still very diverse in Europe,
according to de Haen. "Food safety control systems in
Central and Eastern Europe as well as in Central Asian Republics
are very different from the EU, and also vary among each other.
Europe is certainly not aiming for a single standard diet. The
challenge is: harmonisation in diversity. We need to bring
different food safety and quality policies across Europe closer
together to protect the health and well-being of consumers.
Different food safety systems need to become comparable and
"Problems with food safety over the last
decades have been aggravated by, lack of collaboration between
different authorities at the national level. WHO, together with
FAO and our Member States are working hard to develop new,
evidence-based, preventative strategies to lower risk of
disease. This work focuses on the whole food production chain.
We promote a dialogue with consumers. We encourage
interdisciplinary collaboration all the way from farm to table.
Different authorities at the national level and different
international organizations will have to work together and
co-ordinate their efforts for this to work," noted
Salmonella is still the most
frequently reported causal agent of foodborne disease outbreaks
in East and West European countries, according to FAO/WHO.
Outbreaks occur in private homes and in mass catering kitchens
in restaurants, cafeterias, catering services, schools,
kindergartens and hospitals.
Campylobacter is currently the most commonly reported
gastrointestinal pathogen in many countries, including Denmark,
Finland, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden,
Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Campylobacteriosis is a
bacterial infection that affects the intestinal tract.
The contamination of food by chemical
hazards is another major public health concern. In Central and
Eastern Europe food contamination arises largely from industrial
contamination of air, soil and water. One of the hot spots is
the Aral Sea area. For almost 30 years the use of water for
irrigation of cotton monoculture and the heavy use of
insecticides, pesticides and herbicides has created a critical
situation for the health of the local population.
FAO/WHO recommended that all countries have
science-based risk assessment and management systems in place to
deal with microbiological and chemical hazards in food. In some
countries, infrastructure needs to be strengthened to achieve a
higher level of protection. "Agriculture and health
institutions must work together to ensure food safety,"
de Haen said.
Currently FAO and WHO are
performing a number of microbiological risk assessments, the
first ever to be performed at the international level. The
food-pathogen combinations that have been identified through
various expert consultations as deserving immediate attention
are Listeria in ready to eat foods, Campylobacter in poultry,
Vibrio in seafood, and Salmonella in eggs and poultry.
"These risk assessments will provide templates for
Member States to adapt them to their national situation and to
assist them in addressing the threats of these pathogens in the
most efficient way," Nabarro said.
FAO and WHO stressed the many advantages of safer and
high quality food. "Safer food means lower incidence of
foodborne diseases, lower public health costs, fewer barriers to
international trade, lower productivity losses and better