H.E. Dr VichaiTienthavorn, Vice Minister of the Ministry of Public Health, Thailand,
Distinguished participants from various countries of Asia,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you, to the Regional Food Safety Policy Consultation for Asia being organized by the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (RAP) in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health. I would like to thank Ministry of Public Health for supporting FAO in organizing this important Regional Consultation. I am very glad to see that various departments at senior level and stakeholders from 13 countries are represented in this Consultation.
Food safety is a very important subject and has been increasingly gaining importance globally as well as in the region. Food safety as you are aware contributes significantly to food security as unsafe and poor quality food leads to illnesses, malnutrition as well as food wastage. This leads to a strong need to emphasize not only on availability of food but also ensure that food safety issues are given importance in our effort to attain food security and nutrition. Recent concerns on food safety relate to, not only the common microbiological and chemical contamination, but also the ever newer emerging hazards due technological development innovations such as nanotechnology, climate change, use of newer packaging materials and others.
Although governments in the region have been working towards addressing food safety in their countries, the challenges faced by them are many. One of the major issue continues to be the clarity of the role of multiple agencies due to the multidisciplinary nature of food safety which needs involvement of not only a large number of departments to oversee and coordinate the food safety aspect but also involvement of multiple stakeholders, the producers, processors, handlers, retailers, consumers that have a role in ensuring that there is no neglect in any portion of the food chain for ensuring a safe food.
Another important challenge is the lack of appropriate indicators on food safety as well as reliable data due to the fact that the food safety status of countries is not easily measureable and the impact of food safety is not readily felt during normal times and usual circumstances. Only when cases of major incidents or emergencies such as melamine contamination, dioxin contamination or the latest E.coli O104:H4 bacteria contamination case in Germany have occured, then the impact of food safety is more evident.
In view of this, the resources allocated towards food safety in terms of physical, human, financial resources are not always appropriate to the real needs. There have been instances in countries where state-of-the art laboratories have been extablished, but funding for testing has not been suitably allocated. In other cases governments have allocated funding for ensuring safety for export to meet needs of importing governments while efforts for safety of products for local market is often neglected.
It therefore becomes imperative, that countries clearly identify their priorities and goals in relation to food safety and work towards addressing these in a comprehensive and coordinated manner with involvement of relevant stakeholders. These may cover a range of issues including public health, protecting consumer rights, maintaining access to international and regional markets, protecting the image of the country, providing an environment for growth of industry, reducing food wastes and losses and others. Policies play an important role in providing a common vision, goal and guiding principles and directions for addressing food safety in a country.
Many countries have already formulated or are in the process of formulating food safety policies. It is important that the policies are formulated with multistakeholder involvement and consultation, so that these are not skewed towards specific goals relating to a single sector (such as exports) or only catering to the interests of specific groups in food chain.
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 and works with them in addressing food safety concerns and supports their capacity development.
Food safety has been recognised as a priority area in the FAO Regional Conference for the Asia & the Pacific and in the 31st FAO Regional Conference for the Asia & the Pacific held in March 2012, FAO was requested to assist member countries to
- harmonize food safety and quality standards in value chain development
- strengthen legal and institutional frameworks that govern food safety and quality in value chain development
- enhance capacity for participation in the design of animal health and food-safety standards
FAO is currently supporting 15-20 projects in various countries of Asia Pacific Region on food safety covering capacity strengthening in aspects of food safety and quality policies, food legislation, laboratories, standards and Codex related activities, control and inspection procedures, public awareness and education on food safety and consumers’ health; implementing preventative risk-based approach in industry sectors, and others.
Inspite of various efforts and initiatives in the region, it has been observed that there is a much more needed in the area of food safety in terms of a clear focus based on objectives and priorities of the country, clarity on roles and responsibility of different Government Agencies and other stakeholders and appropriate investments in terms of resource allocations (physical, human and financial resources).
The purpose of this Consultation, therefore, is to bring together multiple stakeholders from various countries of the Region with differing food safety scenario so that:
- issues and challenges relating to food safety are identified and reflected upon;
- country experiences on developing and implementing food safety policies are shared;
- issues and priority areas are identified and defined which can further be used by countries as a guidance while developing/ reviewing their food safety policy.
- Country level priority actions are identified with support required for implementing the same (including resource requirements)
Some experiences of countries such as Thailand, Japan and Bangladesh in the area of food safety policies will also be shared.
Prior to the Consultation, I understand that an exercise has been carried out to gather data from countries on the scenario of food safety policies, covering the background of establishment of the policies, the drivers, the goals to be achieved, the challenges being faced towards their implementation. This will form a basis of discussions during the Consultation.
Based on this Consultation, FAO could further explore support to countries in developing/ reviewing their policies or even in facilitating the implementation of these. Let me add that FAO is currently supporting some countries such as Bangladesh in developing their food safety and quality policy and Mongolia in developing their policy for food standards.
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.
It is indeed a pleasure for FAO to be able to organise this important Regional Consultation. I would like to thank the Ministry of Health for collaborating with FAO and coordinating all the logistic arrangements, which indeed is a very difficult task. I would also like to thank all the countries present for sparing their time as well as providing their inputs and sharing their experiences to support this important Meeting.
Finally, I wish you a successful Regional Consultation and look forward to the successful outcome of your deliberations in this crucial field of food safety policies.