Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Asia needs preventative food safety measures throughout the food chain

Asia needs preventative food safety measures throughout the food chain

Bangkok, Thailand, 23 Jun 2014 -- A more proactive approach is needed to prevent foodborne diseases as food contamination continues to be a significant public health issue in both developed and developing countries of Asia, a senior FAO official warned today.

“Food plays such an important role for our health and nutritional status – it is a basic necessity of life and central to our wellbeing, yet foodborne diseases and food contamination are significantly increasing as public health issues in Asia,” said Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, adding that the problem is significant in both developed and developing countries.

“We have spent a lot of efforts and resources in post-factum actions after people suffered from food borne diseases or other negative impacts, now we need to move to pro-active, preventative measures,” Konuma said, pointing out that more than 200 known diseases are contracted through the spread of contaminated food. 

Konuma’s comments were made at the beginning of an FAO convened three-day regional workshop which is reviewing the status of implementation of food safety standards at country level in Asia and acting as a forum for government and industry to seek further guidance from experts in the field of food safety. The workshop is organized by FAO in collaboration with Switzerland’s Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO). Presenters are emphasizing the need to shift to a preventative approach in achieving better food safety practices.

“To ensure safety and quality of foods, it is necessary to implement a preventative approach based on risk which focuses on building quality and safety throughout the food chain,” said Konuma. “In the preventative approach, the focus is on ensuring that hazards are prevented from entering the food chain through implementation of good practices and through internationally accepted hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) systems.”

“Switzerland is strongly committed to enhancing the participation of all Codex members, especially developing countries, in Codex food safety,” said Awilo O. Pernet, of Switzerland’s Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO) and Vice-Chairperson of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. “And I would like to express my sincere gratitude and acknowledgement to FAO for this partnership that has materialized so successfully,”

A third speaker, Patrick Deboyser, Minister-Counsellor from the European Commission on Health and Food Safety, noted the importance the EC places on food safety, pointing out that the European union is the largest importer of agricultural and fish products.

Many governments have recognized the importance of incorporating this preventative risk-based approach in their national food control systems. However, many FAO member States in Asia have yet to fully integrate it. One of the workshop’s main objectives is to help governments incorporate established international Codex guidelines into enforceable requirements at country level. The workshop will provide further guidance on implementation of norms to help governments overcome any problems they presently encounter in converting guidelines into requirements.

Aside from the positive health benefits improved food safety standards imply, there is also a strong business case to be made for implementing and enforcing internationally recognised standards. Foodborne illnesses can have an adverse effect on trade and tourism, result in loss of earnings, productivity and litigation. Additionally, unsafe food leads to food losses and wastes, and reduced market access. Food spoilage is wasteful and costly and can adversely affect the economy and erode consumer confidence.

FAO recognizes the importance of the GMP/HACCP system for ensuring safety and quality of food and the prevention of foodborne diseases and the Organization has played an important role in developing and promoting the system. The Codex Alimentarius General Principles of Food Hygiene lays a firm foundation for ensuring food hygiene and recommends the HACCP approach wherever possible to enhance food safety.