Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

OPENING REMARKS

by

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

Delivered at the

FAO/WHO Expert meeting on microbiological hazards associated with leafy green vegetables and herbs

 Imperial Queen’s Park Hotel, Bangkok
5 May 2008

Dr Maureen Birmingham, WHO Representative,
Distinguished Experts,
Colleagues from WHO, FAO,
Ladies and gentlemen,


On behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to this Joint FAO/WHO expert meeting on microbiological hazards associated with leafy green vegetables and fresh herbs in Bangkok. I would like to begin by thanking you all for accepting the invitation to participate in this meeting and for putting your expertise at the disposal of both WHO and FAO to address some important food safety issues related to leafy green vegetables and herbs. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our colleagues in the WHO office in Bangkok who have played a significant role in the local organization of this meeting. Finally, I would like to express our gratitude and appreciation to the Thai Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives for their assistance and great hospitality extended to the participants, including arranging a field trip on Wednesday.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Providing an increasing global population with safe and nutritious food is a cornerstone of the mission and work of FAO. The current global situation of soaring food prices, in particular, presents great challenges towards achieving the goal of global food security. Food and agriculture have come back to the global – and national – development agenda at a time that the world at large is facing a food crisis, mainly triggered by 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.

As a result, there is an obvious 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 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 such as fresh fruits and vegetables including leafy greens and fresh herbs. Fresh fruits and vegetables play an important role in human nutrition as part of a healthy diet and in fighting the double burden of malnutrition. They are important products in international trade, particularly for many developing countries where exports of these products make a substantial contribution to farmers’ incomes.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Here in Thailand and in South East Asia the climatic conditions enable year round production of a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables. While both production and trade of these important export commodities continue to increase throughout Asia, outbreaks of foodborne diseases linked to fresh produce have strong negative effects on both consumption of these commodities and international trade. Thus, science-based advice and guidance to reduce hazards associated with fresh produce are critical and timely.

In this context, FAO continues to advocate a holistic food chain approach in order to achieve food safety. This is particularly necessary in the case of fresh produce where post-harvest options for improving product safety are limited and, hence, there is a strong need to focus food safety measures on primary production and good agricultural practices.

FAO has extensive experience and expertise in horticulture, inputs to horticulture (water, fertilizer), food safety and nutrition, and has an important work programme component on Good Agriculture Practices. FAO is promoting the development and application of Good Agriculture Practice in a holistic manner such that they are based on food safety, economic, environmental and social sustainability. Within that framework, we are aware that there are some specific issues that must be addressed to improve the safety of fresh produce and we hope that this meeting will provide us with advice and additional knowledge to assist in addressing those specific problems.

International standards play a critical role in international trade and the standard setting process of the Codex Alimentarius is well recognized as an inclusive process involving all interested parties. Critical to the development of good standards is a strong scientific basis and, if necessary, risk assessment. Together with WHO, FAO provides a neutral international forum for independent 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 HACCP. Together these good practices are considered essential and necessary approaches to improving food safety and producing safer fresh produce. 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.

Distinguished experts,
Ladies and gentlemen,

In concluding, I should like to remind that you are invited to this meeting and to share your knowledge based on your individual expertise and experiences, and that you are participating in this meeting as independent experts and not as representatives of your organizations or governments. While providing WHO and FAO with the scientific basis which is critical to food safety work at the international level, I hope that your participation in this meeting will also broaden your networks and highlight to you the important role that experts such as yourselves play in ensuring that working together at the international level we can provide the best possible advice and guidance to our members.

I wish you a successful expert meeting and an enjoyable stay in Bangkok.

Thank you.