Ladies and gentlemen.
It is indeed a great honour and privilege for me to welcome you all on behalf of the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Mr Jacques Diouf, to this international conference on Food Safety and HACCP in the 21st Century. Allow me first to extend FAO’s sincere thanks to the conference organisers and hosts, the International Centre for HACCP Innovation, University of Salford, in the United Kingdom, and the Chulalongkorn University of Thailand. It is indeed an honour for FAO to be able to support and contribute to this important event.
FAO’s mandate is to raise levels of nutrition, improve agricultural productivity, better the lives of rural populations and contribute to the growth of the world economy. Since its establishment in 1945, FAO has encouraged and assisted Member Countries with the improvement of food quality and safety as an integral part of this mandate. The World Food Summit held in November 1996 at FAO Headquarters, Rome adopted the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action which added the essential dimension of food security to the FAO mandate. Food security is defined as the “physical and economic access by all, at all times, to sufficient, nutritionally adequate and safe food”. Clearly, food safety is a priority programme of FAO.
Food safety touches on many aspects of agricultural production technologies, food handling and processing, trade and distribution. Production of safe food requires adequate controls along the food chain from farm or sea to table. Food safety hazards can arise from a range of sources including, food additives, pathogens, heavy metals, organo-chemical pollutants, residues of veterinary drugs, and pesticide residues.
Public awareness of food safety issues has increased dramatically, in the eight years since the WFS, led by concern over BSE, reports of antibiotic-resistant micro-organisms in foods, the dioxin crisis of 1999, and numerous outbreaks of food-borne illnesses due to microbial contamination of foods.
For all these reasons, governments are faced with increasing pressure from politicians as well as the general public and the media to do more to ensure the quality and safety of the food supply within their territories, while at the same time improving the accessibility of their export products to an ever demanding international market. For these reasons the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations continues to give highest priority to those of its programmes associated with the production of high quality and safe food.
The new trading rules set down in the WTO Agreements place greater emphasis on establishing fair rules for the import and export of food to assure consumer protection, and not in a manner which may constitute a disguised restriction on international trade. Increasingly, food safety is one of the core elements under discussion in accession to many international Agreements and bodies, including the World Trade Organization and the European Union. Within this framework, the joint FAO/WHO programme on food standards implemented through the Codex Alimentarius Commission is of key importance, as Codex standards, guidelines and codes of practice for food safety are the benchmarks against which national measures and regulations are evaluated in dispute settlement involving internationally traded food products. This recognition had led to increased participation by developing and developed countries in all Codex work. Of particular relevance to this conference is the Codex standard “General Principles of Food Hygiene” which include guidelines on the application of the HACCP system [CAC/RCP 1-1969, Rev. 4-2003]. This standard has been used as the basis of HACCP programmes in the food industry in many countries.
To support national capacities in applying improved standards, numerous FAO technical cooperation projects have been implemented throughout the world. The current FAO-financed project in Thailand, “Strengthening compliance of the SPS requirements for expanded exports of fresh and processed fruits and vegetable” is an example of a national project which is focusing on improving food safety controls along the food chain. In addition to country specific activities, FAO is involved in a number of global and regional food safety initiatives.
As many of you know, WHO and FAO have organised a number of global and regional initiatives to promote consultations and exchanges of experiences on food safety issues that are of concern to everyone. The FAO/WHO Regional Conference on Food Safety for Asia and the Pacific held in Seremban, Malaysia from 24 to 27 May 2004, was attended by over 230 delegates from 36 countries and territories, and by observers from 10 international governmental and non-governmental organizations. A number of practical recommendations were agreed upon including the need to ensure that good practices to minimise the risk of contamination are applied by producers, processors and consumers alike. The second FAO/WHO Global Forum for Food Safety Regulators “Building Effective Food Safety Systems” is planned to be held in Bangkok, from 12 to 14 October 2004. FAO is actively promoting initiatives such as the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF) established by FAO, WHO, OIE, WTO and the World Bank, to coordinate the capacity building efforts of these organizations in the areas of food safety, plant and animal health, and to provide a funding mechanism for countries and stakeholders to improve in meeting SPS standards.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to take a few minutes to look more closely at today’s conference, which provides an important opportunity for detailed discussions on the application of “good practices”, including Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs); Good Hygiene Practices (GHPs), and the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system. Throughout the world, the HACCP system has been widely accepted as an effective food safety management system, and the range of speakers here today is clear testament to the global application of the HACCP. We will see a range of approaches for the application of HACCP at different points along the food chain.
However, a common thread in applying the HACCP system, is that clear roles and responsibilities are assumed by the food industry and government - food producers and processors are responsible for developing plant and process specific HACCP systems, while the government usually provides a supportive regulatory environment through information dissemination and auditing of the food industry to ensure the application of GAPs, GHPs, and HACCP. As countries have developed policies and programmes to support the application of HACCP, various challenges have arisen. At the same time, as national programmes have evolved, lessons have been learned.
While all countries face challenges in maintaining a safe food supply, these challenges are compounded where (a) multiple government agencies have food safety responsibilities without the necessary coordination among them; (b) the food industry consists of large numbers of small traditional food businesses which lack food hygiene and management skills to adopt HACCP, and (c) where overall food control elements are weak, such as legislation and standards, laboratory services, and inspection and monitoring programmes. In general, developing countries find it more difficult to overcome these challenges due to limited resources and in some cases lack of technical know-how.
During the coming days, we expect that there will be ample opportunity to address many of these issues and learn from each other on successful approaches to achieve food safety through the HACCP system at various points in the food chain. I would encourage you in your discussions to look at ways to ensure mutual support among government agencies, institutions and other stakeholders, particularly the food industry and consumer groups, involved in food control. In addition, I am aware that your discussions will also focus on the particular needs of small food businesses, which due to their size, lack of technical expertise, economic resources, or the nature of their work, encounter difficulties in implementing HACCP. Your views on this matter are very timely as WHO and FAO are preparing a guidance document on the application of HACCP in small businesses, in response to the request of the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In closing, I should like to take this opportunity to assure you of FAO’s commitment to capacity building for food safety. I would like once again to extend my thanks to our gracious hosts and to commend them on their initiative of designating 2004 as the Year of Food Safety. I hope you find this a very fruitful and rewarding year. It remains for me to wish you all a very successful and productive conference.