Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific
delivered at the

FAO International Technical Consultation on Biological Risk Management
in Food and Agriculture

13-17 January 2003
Bangkok, Thailand

Mr. Chavalwut Chainuvati, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives from Thailand,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the Director-General of FAO, I wish to welcome you all to this important Consultation on Biological Risk Management in Food and Agriculture, being held from the 13-17 January, at UNCC at Bangkok, Thailand

This Consultation is the culmination of considerable efforts by FAO and its various partners during 2002 to develop ways of better managing biological risk in agriculture to ensure improved food safety, plant and animal life and health, and environmental sustainability. The issue is of particular importance in a world which is experiencing increased globalization of its economy.

Indeed the increased globalization and international trade has created new problems. Animal and plant diseases and pests are being introduced into countries at an ever-increasing rate. Food is produced far from its place of consumption, exposing it to potential food safety hazards and increasing the health risks for the consumer. Modern biotechnology provides new opportunities for achieving increased food and agricultural production. However, it raises concerns in relation to consumer acceptability and environmental security.

National sanitary and phytosanitary measures are important to protect human health and plant and animal life and health. However, they are also important technical barriers to international trade. Food and agricultural trade requires a set of national and international rules and regulations that are acceptable to all parties, applied indiscriminately and developed in a transparent and fair manner.

What is biological risk management in food and agriculture?

Biological risk management covers the concept, process and objective of managing – in a holistic manner – human health risks related to food safety and risks to animal and plant health and life associated with food and agriculture. I am referring here to agriculture in a wide sense, covering agronomy, livestock husbandry, forestry, fisheries and related environmental aspects. Biological risk management covers three main sectors, namely food safety, and the protection of animal and plant life and health. It also includes the introduction and release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and their products, and the introduction and safe management of invasive alien species and genotypes. It encompasses the policy and regulatory frameworks for managing these risks.

Biological risk management in food and agriculture is referred to by FAO as Biosecurity. This term however can be interpreted in different ways. In this context, I wish to point out that Biosecurity has a wider meaning than Biosafety which is restricted to describing the avoidance of risk to human health and safety, and the conservation of the environment, as the result of the introduction and release of genetically modified organisms. One of the challenges facing this meeting is to find a more suitable term for Biosecurity which conveys the entire message without being misleading.

This brings me to the point why Biosecurity is important.

More and more, National regulatory and export certification systems are challenged by large increases in the volume of food and agricultural products being traded internationally, by the expanding variety of imported products and by the growing number of countries from which these imports originate. Increased travel is also creating more pathways to spread pests, diseases and other hazards that are moving faster and further than ever before.

Biosecurity in food and agriculture is thus needed. Governments should have national legislation and regulatory frameworks that ensure the protection of human health, animal and plant life and health.

Traditionally, Biosecurity has been implemented in a sectorial manner by means of food safety laws, animal and plant quarantine, and pesticide regulations. Measures used to assure Biosafety and the introduction of alien species into the environment may add further to such a sectorial approach. This results in costly regulatory systems that require high investment and recurrent costs such as infrastructure and human resources.

The call for a holistic approach to biological risk management combined with the necessity for economies of scale – prescribes improved coordination between national bodies responsible for enforcing sanitary, phytosanitary and zoosanitary measures to better protect human, animal and plant life and health, without creating unjustified technical barriers to trade. Models to rationalize regulatory functions among sectors in the quest for improved effectiveness and efficiency are appearing in a number of countries, including Thailand.

The challenge is to distribute responsibilities among the various institutions dealing with Biosecurity to ensure that functions are performed effectively and efficiently. Such cooperation and rationalization will particularly benefit developing countries and countries with small economies and limited capacity that cannot afford traditional sector-oriented approaches often ill-adapted to their means and circumstances.

What has been achieved so far?

At the national level, recent developments in Biosecurity in food and agriculture suggest a trend toward integration of and cooperation across sectors. There is a tendency in some countries, for example Australia, Belize, Canada and New Zealand and more recently in Thailand, for harmonization and closer cooperation between food safety and animal and plant quarantine services.

Internationally, this tendency is demonstrated in the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the so-called SPS Agreement). This Agreement has played an important role in harmonizing the activities in sectorial international instruments on food safety, the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius; on plant health, the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC); and on animal health, the OIE (Office International Des ?pizooties/world organization for animal health). It remains to be seen how other international agreements, such as the Cartagena Protocol, will adapt to this international regulatory system.

FAO has identified Biosecurity as a priority area in its Medium-Term Plan 2002-2007. It calls for cooperation and joint planning among all the relevant stakeholders of FAO, including the Codex Alimentarius Commission and the International Plant Protection Commission, as well as for cooperation with other concerned agencies and international organizations. During 2002 FAO convened several meetings and consultations which advanced the understanding and concept of Biosecurity, particularly in developing countries. FAO, in collaboration with other agencies, has also initiated a project to develop a single International Portal for Food Safety, Animal and Plant Health (IPFSAPH) to facilitate the exchange of official Biosecurity-related information among countries and institutions concerned. This inter-agency project has a functional prototype that needs further development with Member country participation.

FAO is cooperating with WHO, WTO, the World Bank, OIE, Codex and the IPPC to formulate a joint strategy on capacity building for Biosecurity. The Organization has also developed a programme document to address capacity building in relation to biotechnology, food safety, and animal and plant health.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this comes to my last, but not the least point of today:

What is expected from this meeting?

As many of you have already been informed, the aim of this meeting is to discuss the concept and the relevance of Biosecurity in an ever-changing world and to review the recommendations and conclusions resulting from the Expert Consultation, held in Rome in September 2002 that preceded this meeting. In particular, we ask you to consider national regulatory systems and their capacity to meet the requirements of their trade partners, to meet the requirements of national food safety systems, and to ensure the protection of animal and plant health. We also request that you consider the need for information exchange among regulatory agencies and the establishment of a system which will facilitate a regular flow of information between the parties concerned. Finally, we ask you to consider the requirements for capacity building to create a sustainable national infrastructure for Biosecurity.

We hope that by Friday you will be able to recommend what needs to be done by governments, FAO and other organizations to move forward on this important matter. Such advice will be used to prepare a comprehensive document on Biosecurity to be submitted to the FAO Committee on Agriculture in March 2003. In this context, I should like to stress that your work this week is an integral part of FAO’s normative programme which is designed to directly contribute to the outcome of WFS and the goal of universal food security. We look forward to your active participation, intellectual inputs and valuable support to the subject in question.

In closing, I wish to thank the Government of Thailand for its generous offer in hosting the meeting. I would also like to thank the Government of the Netherlands for its financial support which has made this Consultation possible.

I wish you fruitful deliberations and an enjoyable stay in Bangkok, and declare the meeting open.

Thank you.