Bangkok, Thailand, 17 Dec 2012 -- Asian farmers and consumers of Asian agricultural and food products in countries around the world stand to benefit from discussions at be held at the FAO Regional Food Safety Consultation Workshop that opened today. More than 45 people working in the field food safety from 13 Asian countries are attending the Consultation representing different governmental and non-governmental groups. Food safety is a multidisciplinary subject and has to be addressed while taking into account the roles of multiple agencies and stakeholders.
Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific opened the Consultation, saying, “Although governments in the region have been working to address food safety in their countries, the challenges are many. One of the major issues is the lack of clarity of the role of multiple agencies and coordination mechanisms due to the multidisciplinary nature of food safety, which needs involvement of not only a large number of departments to oversee and coordinate food safety aspects, 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 safe food.”
The need for reliable data
Another important challenge is the lack of appropriate indicators on food safety as well as reliable data on these due to which the food safety status of countries is not easily measureable and the impact of food safety is not readily felt during normal times. Food safety resources are not always appropriate to the situation. For example, there have been instances in countries where state-of-the-art laboratories have been established, but funding for testing has not been suitable allocated.
According to Konuma, “It is imperative that countries clearly identify their policies, including 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 for addressing food safety in a country.”
FAO is currently supporting around 15-20 projects in various countries of Asia Pacific Region on food safety, covering capacity strengthening of many aspects of food safety and quality policies. FAO efforts extend to food legislation, laboratories, standards and activities related to the Codex Alimentarius Commission. FAO also supports projects on food and agriculture control and inspection procedures, public awareness and education on food safety and consumer health.
Thailand’s Vice Minister for Public Health, Vichai Tienthavorn, said, “Food safety policy is an important issue and all countries deem it necessary to adjust in order to maintain its good security and improve food safety standards. Also, Government should develop a documented comprehensive national food safety policy and establish effective partnerships amongst relevant stakeholders. This requires leadership, political will and a commitment to food safety, especially in view of the competing priorities in the health agenda.”
Multidisciplinary nature of food safety policy
Calling the Consultation important, Shashi Sareen, FAO Senior Food Safety and Nutrition Officer, said: “Because the subject of food safety is very complex due to its multidisciplinary nature, which requires multi-agency collaboration as also involvement of arrange of stakeholders that have a role in ensuring safe food. It is also very important, as the Consultation brings together senior level government officials representing Ministries of Health, Agriculture, Commerce, Trade and Industries, as well as representatives from trade bodies.
FAO organized the 3-day Consultation in collaboration with Thailand’s Bureau of Food Safety Extension and Support, Ministry of Public Health to consider how food safety approaches in the Organization’s 44 Asia-Pacific member countries can be strengthened.
The Consultation will provide participating officials and others involved in food safety with an in-depth understanding of the region’s rapidly changing food environment. It will examine the regional dimensions of safety challenges and concerns within the context of agriculture and food production, and important value chains. It also will examine food safety policies in relation to trade in local and international markets and to harmonize food safety and quality standards in value chain development. Another consultation goal is to strengthen legal and institutional frameworks that govern food safety and quality in value chain development.