Budapest, 28 February 2002 - The
first Pan-European Food Safety Conference has called upon
Central and Eastern European countries today to join a Rapid
Alert System for Food Products, already operational in the
European Union. According to the report of the meeting, the
system "has proved to be useful to support public
health, consumer protection and transparency in international
food trade" and countries are "encouraged to
The system currently covers the 15 EU member
states, as well as Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland. In the
case where a product poses a serious and immediate risk to the
health of consumers, the countries have a duty to provide
information to the EU Commission to find and withdraw the
product from the market. This information is shared among the
countries participating in the system so that they can take
Conference on Food Safety and Quality, organised by the UN Food
and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health
Organization (WHO) and hosted by the government of Hungary,
ended today after four days of discussions.
The conference was an important first step towards the
improvement of food safety and quality throughout the European
region, FAO/WHO said. Some foodborne diseases such as
Salmonellosis and Campylobacter are on the rise in Europe and
tougher controls are needed to prevent the spread of these
diseases, FAO/WHO said. Other concerns are chemical hazards such
as dioxin, lead and cadmium, and pesticide residues. Food safety
systems in the European region are often not fully transparent
and many need to be improved, FAO/WHO said.
The conference urged countries to strengthen and
harmonize disease surveillance, outbreak investigations, data
reporting systems and diagnostic methods on food safety and
"There is a need to
increase the compatibility of food safety systems by
implementing equivalence, transparency and harmonization of
regulations and control across Europe," the final
cooperation between the sectors of health and food production,
agriculture and fisheries is necessary for food
Better control of food
safety and quality "in the whole food chain including
internal checks of food and feed business operators should be
introduced," according to the report. The primary
responsibility of food and feed companies for the safety of
their products should be legally established.
"Information on the results of all monitoring
tests and the outcome of official food inspections and other
official food control activities, should be made
public." Many countries still do not provide this
information to the public, according to FAO and WHO.
All countries should examine "commercial food
safety and nutrition claims on labels to ensure that consumers
receive accurate information and are not mislead."
The conference stressed that the creation
of strong and independent consumer organizations should be
encouraged. An interactive open dialogue between scientists,
risk managers, producers and consumers at all stages of the
decision making process is a key to better understand risk
assessment, risk management and risk communication.
Training and education in food hygiene should be used
to increase the competence of workers and effectiveness of
inspectors throughout the food chain. Education of consumers
should begin at school age.
asked FAO, WHO and European donors to assist transition
countries in improving capacity for food safety control through
training, institution building and legislation.
"Not only the candidates for EU membership
but all transition countries in Europe need assistance to
improve their food safety and quality systems. There should not
be two different groups of countries in Europe," said
Diana Banati (Hungary), chair of the conference.
Food safety experts from 47 countries, as well as food
producers' and consumers' associations from Western,
Central and Eastern Europe and other countries in transition
attended the meeting in Budapest.
recommendations of the conference will be submitted to ministers
attending the 23rd FAO Regional Conference for Europe (Cyprus,
29-31 May 2002) and to the 52nd meeting of the WHO Regional
Committee for Europe (Copenhagen, 16-19 September 2002) for