Excellency Li Changjiang, Minister, General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, Government of China,
Colleagues from UN system
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very pleased to be here with you this morning at the China International Food Safety & Quality Conference. On behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, I congratulate the organizers for undertaking this initiative and thank them for involving FAO in this conference. I also wish to express our appreciation to the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, People’s Republic of China for their leading role in this endeavour. Indeed, this Conference is especially timely, important and useful, given the current international attention to the alerts on the melamine-contaminated powdered milk in China, jointly issued by FAO and WHO under the International Network of Food Safety Authorities(INFOSAN).
Providing an increasing global population with safe and nutritious food is the principal mandate of FAO. The current global situation of soaring food prices, in particular, presents greater challenges towards achieving the goal of global food security and also the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – especially the first MDG target of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty and suffering from hunger by 2015.
The sharp increase of food prices in the recent past and the resultant food crisis – mainly due to increasing energy costs, low international food stock due to weather-induced disasters and climate change, unstable financial markets, as well as competition for the use of food for biofuel – has triggered international debates on the policies for agricultural development, forced the international community to reflect on the role of agriculture. As a result, we now see policy makers once again putting the agricultural sector back on top of both the international and national development agendas.
In parallel, there is an obvious recognition of the need for both immediate food aid to people most affected by the rising cost of food – urban poor, landless and small marginalized farmers – and assistance to countries to boost agricultural productivity, now and in the long run. While the direct impact of soaring food prices on food safety is not yet clear at this stage, it is likely that related vulnerabilities and hazards will emerge, challenging the safety of food products, and the quality of food consumption by marginalized groups who have less or even no choices. Safe foods are not only a prerequisite for healthy diets of their citizen, but they are also important products in international trade, particularly for many developing countries where exports of these products make a substantial contribution to farmers’ incomes and national economy.
While both production and trade of export commodities continue to increase throughout Asia, outbreaks of foodborne diseases due to consumption of unsafe and contaminated foods have strong negative effects on both consumption of these commodities and international trade. Thus, science-based advice and guidance to reduce hazards associated with such food products are critical. In this context, FAO commends the Chinese government for its tireless efforts and significant achievements in its policies and programmes for addressing both national food security and food safety issues, though there are enormous challenges to be envisaged in the march towards sustainable development.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today, food safety is the common concern of the world community. Increasingly comprehensive trade regimes and stringent standards in developed countries have amplified the challenges for food producers, processor, distributors and exporters in developing countries seeking access to international markets.
Food borne diseases cause an enormous burden both in developed and developing countries. It is sad to note that each year about 1.8 million people die from diarrhoeal diseases alone and many of these cases have been attributed to contamination of food and drinking water (as estimated by WHO). The recent food contamination outbreak involving the presence of melamine in powdered infant formula and other dairy products produced by Sanlu Co. Ltd---a serious food safety incident—had caused over 6000 infants fell ill and at least three died (as of 17 September), which call for a more strict monitoring, control and law enforcement along the chains of dairy industry.
Facing such challenges, we in FAO advocate a holistic food chain approach in order to achieve food safety: from production, transportation, processing, retail, storage and preparation to consumption. Accordingly, FAO has placed food safety as one of the high priority strategic objectives of the organization and is committed to providing enhanced assistance to its members for strengthening their technical capabilities and institutional capacities, including enhancing national standards, laws and regulatory frameworks. I will be pleased to share with you in more detail about FAO’s strategy and programmes on food chain approach to food safety and quality during the keynote presentation scheduled for tomorrow morning.
International standards play a critical role in international trade and the standard setting process of the Codex Alimentarius – led by FAO in cooperation with WHO – is well recognized as an inclusive process involving all interested parties. FAO, together with WHO, provides a neutral international forum for independent and science-based assessment of food safety risks. Such work forms the basis for a risk based food safety management system. While the last decade has seen many developments in food safety risk assessment and management, these should not overshadow the primary tools of good practices: good agriculture practices, good hygiene practices, good manufacturing practices and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP).
Good practices are the foundation stone of any programme to produce safer food and – as we become more sophisticated in our assessment approaches – we must consider how we use these approaches to improve the basic tools available to us to address food safety hazards on the ground, by the local communities. I am pleased to note that the China International Food Safety and Quality Conference is a step in this direction.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In order to achieve the goal of providing safe and nutritious foods to all people, particularly in the present context of soaring food prices,a High-Level Conference was organized at FAO Headquarters in Rome from 3 to 5 June this year. The conference was attended by about 5000 delegates from 181 countries including 43 Heads of State and Government. Donors pledged 11 billion US$ to provide support to deserving member countries to cope with the situation of increased food prices. Under the FAO Initiative on Soaring Food Prices launched in December 2007, we in FAO have so far approved over 60 TCP projects amounting to around US$ 30 million for immediate support to its member states. While we are working on boosting food production at this stage, it is our firm commitment to increasing agricultural productivities and addressing issues relating to food quality and safety through food chain approach---which continue to be on high priority agenda of the organization.
We look forward to a further strengthened partnership in providing safe and nutritious food to the world with all stakeholders, including governments, academic institutions, private sectors, international organizations and non-governmental organizations, as well as individuals.
I look forward to a successful and fruitful Conference.