Ladies and gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to welcome you on behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to this FAO Regional Training Workshop on an Integrated Approach to Biosecurity.
Biosecurity is a new concept and one that is assuming an ever-increasing profile at the global and national level. Trends that have increased the spotlight on biosecurity are expanding international movements of people and products such as trade in food, and plant and animal products. Other factors impacting on the importance of biosecurity are new outbreaks of transboundary diseases in people, animals and plants, as well as the growing membership of the World Trade Organization and consequent need for WTO members to comply with global agreements like the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement (SPS).
At the same time, changes in the way food, plants and animals are produced, processed and distributed, and the use of new technologies, have introduced new concerns about the health of plants and animals, as well as food safety and agricultural and environmental sustainability.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The term biosecurity is used to mean different things in different countries and contexts. In FAO, the concept of biosecurity was first discussed in a 2002 Expert Consultation which defined biosecurity as a strategic and integrated approach that encompasses the policy and regulatory frameworks (including instruments and activities) that analyse and manage risks in the sectors of food safety, animal life and health, and plant life and health, including associated environmental risks.
Biosecurity is a holistic concept that is directly relevant to the sustainability of agriculture, food safety, and the protection of the environment including biodiversity. It covers the introduction of plant pests, animal pests and diseases, and zoonoses, the introduction and release of genetically modified organisms and their products, and the introduction and management of invasive alien species.
However, issues encompassed in biosecurity are often dealt with by governments on a sectoral basis. In most countries, several ministries are involved in the formulation and implementation of food safety laws, and animal and plant quarantine and pesticide regulations. It is common that the different stakeholders organize their work without much attention to other sectors and limited attention is paid to the interdisciplinary nature of biosecurity.
In many cases, this fragmented approach to food safety and animal and plant health and life results in a lack of strategic focus, inefficient use of scarce resources and less than optimal results. In the worst cases, it can seriously compromise the ability of countries to respond to and manage risks to human, animal and plant life and health when they occur. This can have potentially significant adverse health impacts in all biosecurity sectors, as well as other negative effects such as disruptions to livelihoods, economic damage, loss of consumer trust, disruptions to trade, loss of biodiversity, unintended changes to ecosystems, and so on.
While in the past a sectoral approach to biosecurity may have been sufficient to cope with the risks, it is clear that it is not sufficient to effectively deal with the challenges facing us today. I am sure you will agree with me that biosecurity hazards of various types exist in each sector and have a high potential to move across sectors. Inadequate controls in one sector can have far-reaching consequences for other sectors.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Governments need to demonstrate to their population as well as trading partners that they can guarantee a safe food supply, prevent and control zoonotic aspects of public health, ensure the sustainability of agriculture, safeguard terrestrial, freshwater and marine environments, and protect biodiversity. This is a huge challenge and one that, in most countries, competes with several other important priorities.
During the past decade, some governments have moved towards an integrated approach to biosecurity that harmonizes and rationalizes policy, legislation and core roles and responsibilities as a means to better manage relevant risks in food and agriculture. Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Norway and Belize are some of the countries that are implementing an integrated biosecurity approach. Their experiences have demonstrated some of the benefits to be achieved – such as simplification of biosecurity legislation, more efficient use of resources, opportunities to develop a single import health standard that meets all biosecurity needs, improved emergency preparedness and response, integrated surveillance systems. This new, integrated approach to manage risks in food and agriculture is strongly supported by FAO and other international organizations.
At the international level, responsibilities for the sectors of biosecurity are shared among a number of organizations and bodies. Reflecting its mandate and competencies, FAO plays a leading role in normative work and technical assistance, at the both the national and international levels, to support the implementation of an integrated biosecurity approach. Related activities include the organization of expert and technical consultations on biosecurity, the development of tools to assist countries to apply a biosecurity approach and support capacity building, and the development and operation of the International Portal on Food Safety, Animal and Plant Health to facilitate provision and exchange of relevant information. In addition, FAO plays an important role in the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF) which aims at assisting developing countries enhance their expertise and capacity to analyze and implement international sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards, improve human, animal and plant health situation, and thus the ability to gain and maintain market access.
The FAO Technical Consultation on Biological Risk Management in Food and Agriculture held in Bangkok in January 2003 stressed the need for FAO to provide the necessary guidance and tools to assist developing countries in their efforts to move towards an integrated approach to biosecurity. In response, FAO has developed a Biosecurity Toolkit with support from the Government of Norway.
This toolkit recognizes that there is no universally acceptable or standardized policy or infrastructure that should govern national biosecurity systems. It offers countries guidance to develop and implement national biosecurity systems in accordance with their international obligations and based on their particular needs.
This workshop is one of three regional workshops organized by FAO based on this new toolkit. Others are being held in Latin America and Africa this month. The purpose of the workshop is to increase awareness and knowledge about an integrated approach to food safety, animal and plant health, and to provide training on assessing capacity needs as a means to determine what is required to strengthen biosecurity capacity at the country level. Identifying needs is an essential first step in the process of strengthening biosecurity capacity. Needs assessment and capacity building are a means to an end. The overall goal is to enhance the capability of countries to protect human health, agricultural production systems and the people and industries that depend on them. But there are likely to be other benefits as well, such as helping to safeguard the environment, protecting against the uncertainties associated with new technologies, improving capacity to meet obligations under international agreements like the SPS Agreement, and enabling countries to take advantage of new trade opportunities.
FAO has organized many workshops and trainings on different sectors and aspects of biosecurity in the past. But this is one of the first regional trainings focusing specifically on an integrated approach to biosecurity and the use of the new FAO Biosecurity Toolkit. As such, this workshop constitutes a milestone in laying foundations for future country-level activities on biosecurity in the region.
FAO is pleased that you have been able and interested in taking time out of your busy work schedules to join us here. I wish you all the best during the next three days, and look forward to hearing about the outcomes of this workshop.