Your Excellency, Dr Surawit Khonsomboon, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Public Health, Thailand,
Distinguished participants from the ASEAN countries, Resource persons, ladies and gentlemen:
It is my pleasure to welcome you, on behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, to the Regional Meeting on:“Developing National Food Safety Emergency Response Plans – Sharing Experiences and Lessons Learnt” being organized by the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (RAP) in collaboration with the Food Safety Operation Center of the Ministry of Public Health.
Food safety emergency as you all would be aware has been defined by Codex as a situation, whether accidental or intentional, that is identified by a competent authority as constituting a serious and as yet uncontrolled foodborne risk to public health that requires urgent action.
We have seen many food safety emergencies in the recent past. An example of such emergencies is the E.coli novel strain O104:H4 bacteria which caused a serious outbreak of foodborne illness in northern Germany in May through June 2011. In this outbreak there were 4000 seriously ill patients with 50 deaths. The source of this, after detailed investigations, was identified as sprouts from imported fenugreek seeds. Other examples are the crisis of milk contaminated with melamine in 2008 due to which there were 6 deaths, 300, 000 illnesses and 115 types of contaminated food products.
Thus, countries need to be prepared to deal with all possible food safety emergency situations in order to reduce the large scale possible health, economic and social impacts. However, many countries do not have the capacity to deal even with routine food safety events, so it is extremely difficult for them to manage such emergencies.
The Food System Emergency Response (FSER) plans are aimed at enabling timely and coordinated response, minimize adverse impact on health and disruption to trade, to meet the international obligations and to reduce the socio-economic and political impact of a large scale food incident, based on “risk analysis concept”. Also, such planning would enable food safety authorities to focus on prevention and preparedness, rather than only on reaction to individual events, which has less long-term sustainability.
A pilot for the development of a Food Safety Emergency Response Plan was done in Thailand during the past year based on a request received by FAO from the Food Safety Operation Centre (FSOC) of Thailand, as the central coordination agency for food safety in Thailand. As a part of the pilot, it was agreed that FSOC will coordinate a Regional Meeting where the results will be presented to ASEAN countries and other interested countries in order to learn from the process and share experiences. In addition, FAO has also recently supported Bangladesh in developing their Food Safety emergency Response Plan.
Today’s meeting, the experiences of Thailand and Bangladesh will be shared in relation to the process followed for developing the plans as well as their plans so that other countries are able to learn from these experiences in developing their own FSER Plans as well as the lessons learnt in the process. In addition, other international organizations namely the OIE, WHO, FAO as well as countries namely Japan, Australia will highlight their activities as related to the area of emergency response. The Meeting will also highlight on the FAO/WHO Guide for application of risk analysis principles and procedures during food safety emergencies as well as the practical use of this tool. An Introduction of the FAO/WHO Guide on National Food Recall Systems will also be presented.
I would like to take some time to dwell on FAO’s activities on food safety in the region. Food safety touches on the 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 issues can arise from a range of sources including, food additives, pathogens, heavy metals, organo-chemical pollutants, residues of veterinary drugs, and pesticide residues.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has been focussing on food safety at the international level as well as regional level. FAO also responds to the needs of individual countries with regard to capacity development.
Food safety has been recognised as a priority area for FAO in the FAO Regional Conference for the Asia & the Pacific.
At the 31st FAO Regional Conference for the Asia & the Pacific (March 2012), FAO was requested to assist member countries to:
- enhance capacity for participation in the design of animal health and food-safety standards;
- harmonize food safety and quality standards in value chain development; and,
- strengthen legal and institutional frameworks that govern food safety and quality in value chain development.
Regional collaboration & cooperation has also been emphasised as crucial to address existing & emerging food safety issues which further brings about the importance of this meeting.
FAO is currently supporting around 15-20 projects in various countries of Asia Pacific Region on food safety covering capacity strengthening in aspects of food legislation, food safety and quality policies, laboratories, standards and Codex related activities, Good Practices such as GAPs, FSER Plans, inspection procedures, food-borne illness surveillance, Geographical indications, public awareness and education on food safety and consumers’ health; implementing preventative risk-based approach in industry sectors, and others.
On this specific area of National Food Safety Emergency Response Plans (FSER plan), FAO provides technical assistance to member countries to formulate and implement an emergency response plan based on the FAO/WHO framework.
The main challenge faced during such emergencies is the multidisciplinarity of the situations. I would like to highlight here the importance of multi-sectoral cooperation and collaboration specifically in this important sector. Food safety emergencies cuts across sectors, and multi-sectoral involvement of all relevant line ministries, academia, and the private sector is important for the effective development and implementation of FSER plans.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am not going to present the details of this regional meeting as it will be presented by my colleague later. However, I wish to stress the importance of learning from lessons from the pilot project countries and from the more experienced countries, and identifying existing gaps and capacity building needs for the development of FSER plans in countries.
In closing, I should like to take this opportunity to assure you of FAO’s commitment to capacity building for food safety.
It is indeed a pleasure for FAO to be able to support and contribute to this important event. I would also like to thank our colleagues from Rome, WHO, OIE and other countries namely Japan and Australia for providing supporting to this important Meeting.
Finally, I wish you a successful Regional Meeting and look forward to the successful outcome of your deliberations in this crucial field of food safety emergency response planning.