SEOUL, 27 Nov 2012 -- The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) are working with Asian countries to develop a strategy to make better use of a global food safety network.
Increased participation in the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) would help countries to better manage food safety emergencies, reducing the health risk to consumers and increasing the availability of safe food.
"With increasing levels of international travel and trade, foodborne disease outbreaks and food contamination events that once only affected local communities can now quickly become global health threats," says Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "I urge all countries to do more to ensure food safety."
Food safety officers from 13 Asian countries will meet today through Thursday in Seoul, Republic of Korea, to discuss ways to enhance participation in INFOSAN and the implementation of the food safety programmes, including the FAO–WHO strategy.
Discussions will focus on better ways to share data, resources and expertise as well as how to build capacities at national level to better respond to food safety emergencies.
"Because the dangers are shared, the solutions must be shared as well," says
Dr Angelika Tritscher, Acting Director of the WHO Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses. "INFOSAN provides the platform for that kind of sharing."
Using the information available through INFOSAN, governments can take rapid action to protect and inform people.
Unsafe food can cause many acute and chronic diseases, such as diarrhoea and cancer. Foodborne and waterborne diarrhoeal diseases kill 2.2 million people annually, 1.9 million of them children, according to WHO estimates.
Recent examples of foodborne outbreaks and contamination of food in Asia include: melamine contamination of infant formula and related dairy products; ebola reston virus in pigs; excessive iodine in soy milk; fish poisoning; hepatitis A associated with semi-dried tomatoes; pesticide-residue poisonings; clenbuterol in pork; and radionuclides in food.
Countries have been strengthening their national food control systems based on frameworks developed by WHO and FAO. The frameworks include steps to improve food safety policies and coordination among agencies in charge of food safety and to develop evidence-based legislation, risk-based food inspection services and more reliable consumer information.
However, even the most advanced food safety systems are vulnerable to foodborne outbreaks. "An essential element of dealing with emergencies is to be as prepared as possible and ensure procedures are in place to facilitate information sharing among and between national authorities and the private sector and through regional collaboration and networks," says Jean Michel Poirson, Senior FAO Food Safety Officer.
"We are proud to support this process and facilitate the collaboration of our counterparts across the region," said Dr Hee-Sung Lee, commissioner of the Korea Food and Drug Administration.
INFOSAN is a joint FAO–WHO programme: to promote the rapid exchange of information during food safety-related events; to share information on important food safety-related issues of global interest; to promote partnership and collaboration among countries; and to help countries strengthen their capacity to manage food safety risks.
Established in 2004, INFOSAN is a network of 178 countries, each with an emergency contact for food safety emergencies, as well as focal points in national agencies with a stake in food safety.