Hundred and Twenty-third Session
Rome, 28 October – 2 November 2002
CONVENING OF GLOBAL AND REGIONAL MEETINGS
A. OUTCOME OF THE GLOBAL FORUM
B. OUTCOME OF THE PAN-EUROPEAN CONFERENCE
C. NEW INITIATIVES
D. STRENGTHENING CAPACITY BUILDING ACTIVITIES
E. MATTERS FOR CONSIDERATION OF THE 123rd COUNCIL
1. The right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food is affirmed in the opening statement of the 1996 Rome Declaration on World Food Security. As a right of all people, safe and nutritious food of adequate quality to meet consumer’s expectation for an active and healthy lifestyle should no longer be the luxury of the rich.
2. In recent years, public awareness of food safety issues has increased dramatically, especially in developed countries. International and domestic markets need to cope with the increasing demands for food that meet consumer’s expectations in terms of food safety and nutritional benefits. With the expansion of agricultural and food trade, the agreements under the World Trade Organization (WTO) to eliminate unjustified trade barriers have given momentum to efforts for the harmonization of food standards and regulations between countries. This changing situation creates both challenges and opportunities for the food and agriculture sector, including fisheries.
3. At its 120th Session (June 2001), the Council endorsed the FAO-led initiatives to convene, jointly with WHO, a Pan-European Conference on Food Safety and Quality and a Global Forum of Food Safety Regulators. FAO convened, in association with WHO, the First Global Forum of Food Safety Regulators in Marrakesh in January 2002. FAO, in association with WHO, also convened a Pan-European Conference on Food Safety and Quality in Budapest, Hungary, in February 2002. The Director-General noted that similar initiatives could be envisaged for other regions to promote a global action in favour of improved food safety and quality world-wide.
4. These conferences provided an opportunity for food safety regulators in developed and developing countries to exchange information and experiences on food safety risk management, and to foster partnership alliances among countries to resolve outstanding issues related to food safety and trade. As a follow-up to the Conferences, periodic global and regional meetings of food safety regulators could be convened to meet country-specific needs taking into account the international and regional contexts. They also recommended that capacity-building activities related to food safety should be strengthened using a food chain approach – from the primary producer to the consumer.
5. The First FAO/WHO Global Forum of Food Safety Regulators, held in Marrakesh, Morocco, in January 2002, provided the opportunity to member countries to exchange information and share experiences regarding food safety issues in their various environments and circumstances. The Forum also considered the handling of food safety emergencies, tackling well-known and emerging hazards as well as how to meet the needs of developing countries. Much of the discussion focused on practical examples such as resolving the dioxin crisis and the efforts under way in several countries to reduce microbiological risks. Through this process, countries learned that it was possible to use food safety regulations to reduce foodborne illness and improve the overall health of their populations. The application of such measures could also enable countries to take advantage of trade opportunities and strengthen consumers’ confidence in the safety of their food supply. The Forum also shared examples on how food safety systems were being adapted to ensure a more sustainable consultation with, and involvement of, consumers and other stakeholders in the regulatory process.
6. Consensus was reached on the need for countries to adopt a risk-based approach in developing food safety policies. It was recognized that many areas required further discussion in appropriate fora to clarify the application of the risk analysis paradigm in all situations. In particular, the need for further dialogue and interaction between countries to deal with food safety issues where there is uncertainty or lack of agreement on the science was highlighted. It was recognized that further application of the risk analysis approach in developing countries required additional investigation and more transfer of knowledge and information, as well as an efficient sharing of relevant data between countries. It was also recognized that communication and consumer involvement both needed further development in many national food safety systems. Improved emergency response systems, especially at the international level, would assist in improving communication and understanding of food safety emergencies and contribute to better and more targeted response at the national level. The pivotal role of international organizations in mediating these developments was stressed.
7. The Forum had a constructive exchange of views on developing countries’ requirements for assistance and how capacity-building efforts could be utilized more effectively. There was recognition that an assessment of needs and priorities of developing countries concerning technical assistance was necessary. Many countries reported ongoing efforts in capacity-building and called for more information, communication and consultation to enhance the effectiveness of these activities. Because food safety should no longer be considered as a luxury of the rich but as a right of all people to have access to safe and nutritious food, actions need to be taken urgently to develop capacity, in particular in developing countries, to assure the safety of the food supply to their populations. Building such capacities would also create export capacity, improve public health and reduce poverty. Moreover, it would improve the confidence of all consumers in the foods that they bought in the global marketplace. These discussions demonstrated a global recognition of the need to adopt an integrated approach to food safety issues and to take actions throughout the food production chain, from farm and fishing boat to the consumer.
8. The Pan-European Conference on Food Safety and Quality was organized jointly by FAO and WHO in Budapest, Hungary, in February 2002. Its objectives were: (a) to provide a platform for European countries to discuss food safety and quality issues of specific importance to the region, and (b) to consider ways and means to improve and harmonize the transparency and reliability of European food chains in order to strengthen consumer confidence in food products. The Conference focused in particular on opportunities for regional cooperation for the harmonization of food safety policies, scientific developments of relevance to improving food safety and quality, and the enhancement of information and communication systems for food safety and quality across the region.
9. The principal conclusions, which emerged from the Conference, included the following: Serious concern was expressed regarding the unsatisfactory state of food safety and quality in a number of countries within the region. Specific food safety risks and the increasing number of incidences of some foodborne diseases were seen as major concerns having negative effects on consumer confidence and public health. Insufficient transparency in existing food control systems, differences in food policies, legislation and standards between countries, and insufficient exchange of information and collaboration between countries and institutions were identified as main impediments. Solutions to these problems were considered to be in the interest of consumers in European countries and would facilitate intra-European and international food trade.
10. The Conference recommendations placed particular emphasis on:
The Conference observed that much relevant food safety and quality expertise and experience already existed in European countries and regional and international organizations. Cooperation between European countries in the fields of research, information exchange, co-ordinated alert and response could be an effective mechanism to improve food safety and quality conditions throughout the whole region. Capacity-building was a high priority for those countries having specific needs.
11. The outcome of the Pan-European Conference was discussed during a Ministerial Round Table held during the 23rd FAO Regional Conference for Europe (Nicosia, Cyprus, May 2002). The FAO Regional Conference for Europe endorsed the conclusions of the Pan-European Conference. Further, it took note of the importance of food safety in the enlargement process of the European Union and of the call for FAO and WHO to play an enhanced role in assisting countries that were not part of the enlargement process.
12. The First Global Forum of Food Safety Regulators in Marrakesh unanimously agreed that another Global Forum should be held in 2004, in a developing country, with any possible succeeding fora held during years when the Codex Alimentarius Commission was not in session. The meeting proposed that the main theme for the next Forum be “Building effective food safety systems ”. It agreed that discussion should focus on a few selected topics with emphasis on practical aspects.
13. The 23rd FAO Regional Conference for Europe took note of the proposal of the Delegation of France to place food safety and quality as one of the main items on the agenda of the 24th FAO Regional Conference for Europe to be held in 2004, and to undertake the technical preparation of this item within the framework of the 33rd Session of the European Commission on Agriculture (ECA) to be held in early 2004.
14. Interest in regional food safety conferences, following the example of the Pan-European Conference in Budapest, is growing. The need for such regional conferences was stressed at the Global Forum of Food Safety Regulators in Marrakesh. FAO is ready to convene similar regional food safety conferences for other regions of the world, while having regard to the lessons learned from the Global Forum and the Pan-European Conference particularly on the preparatory process. These include:
15. Ensuring safe and nutritious food for consumers requires a commitment to food safety throughout the food chain. Food producers, manufacturers, handlers, and marketers have the opportunity to benefit from investment and technical development in food safety to meet the consumer-driven demands on the sector. This requires programmes of capacity-building and technical assistance adopting a farm (or sea) to table systems-management approach to food safety. The need for capacity-building based on this approach was widely stressed in both the Global Forum and the Pan-European Conference.
16. Unfortunately, the food safety systems in many developing countries and transition countries suffer from a number of weaknesses, which limit their ability to ensure consumer protection and deprive them from taking full advantage of the world trading system. These weaknesses affect a number of elements of national food safety systems: (i) food laws, standards and regulations are often obsolete or incomplete and require complete updating; (ii) the different administrations involved in food control activities often have poorly defined and sometimes overlapping duties, and lack the necessary trained manpower to carry out their food inspection and compliance duties; (iii) food control laboratories are inadequate in terms of physical structure, equipment, supplies and technical personnel; and, finally, (iv) the food industry and other operators in the food sector are in need of a restructuring to be in line with current food safety and quality assurance requirements, including the application of good hygienic practices, good manufacturing practices and the hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) system. The lack of efficient national export inspection and certification systems constitutes a major drawback in the ability of developing countries to benefit from their food and agricultural export potentials.
17. To overcome the above inadequacies, there is a need to develop and implement a comprehensive, global capacity-building programme capable of providing the necessary support in response to expressed needs of developing Member Countries. The safety of food has to be addressed throughout the input supply, food production, processing, storage and distribution chain, and requires the active cooperation and involvement of producers, traders, industry and government and the scientific community. This can be achieved through well-conceived national food safety strategies developed with the support of all participants throughout the food chain. The strategy outlines the role of governmental agencies, the food industry and consumers, and establishes mechanisms for cooperation between parties and the means of dealing with existing or emerging food safety and quality challenges. It also ensures that available manpower and financial resources are utilized in a co-ordinated manner to achieve optimal results. A number of key activities need to be conducted which include, in particular, updating food laws and regulations, strengthening of food inspection services, upgrading food control laboratories, implementing safety and quality assurance systems in food production, enhancing scientific and technical expertise, and enhancing national participation in international standard setting processes. These issues should be addressed incrementally, and based on a thorough assessment of the situation in each country to identify the exact needs and formulate the capacity-building activities required.
18. FAO, together with WHO, address food safety and quality from their respective perspectives within the UN system. The interdisciplinary nature of FAO’s work, covering a wide range of policy and technical matters related to food, agriculture and fishery, ensures that food safety is considered throughout the food chain – from producer to consumer. FAO has the expertise and capacity, but not necessarily the financial resources, to provide extensive and comprehensive technical assistance to its Members. During the last three decades, FAO’s technical assistance programme in the field of food safety control and consumer protection has covered a broad spectrum of activities ranging from the provision of advice on specific technical issues to the implementation of fully fledged field projects that address all elements of a food safety control system. This on-going assistance programme would need to be expanded to meet the increasing demands from Member Countries. As emphasized in the recommendations of the Pan-European Conference, cooperation on capacity-building at the international and regional level should be improved and strengthened to build on national experiences, as well as to avoid duplication of work. In this regard, and in line with the 2001 WTO Doha Ministerial Meeting Communiqué, FAO, WHO, OIE, the World Bank and WTO agreed on a partnership initiative for supporting capacity-building in food safety in developing countries.
19. The Council may consider i) endorsing the recommendation of the First Global Forum of Food Safety Regulators that FAO, in close association with WHO, convene a second Forum in 2004 on the topic of “Building effective food safety systems “, and ii) providing information and guidance on how to mobilize additional financial resources for the Agencies to implement this recommendation.
20. The Council may wish to provide guidance on holding further regional food safety conferences. In particular, Council Members may wish to confirm their requirements for such regional conferences, and advise on i) - convening Pan-Regional Conferences, on the model of the first Pan-European Conference. The budget needed would amount to about US$560 000 per conference. Due to the lead time necessary for the preparation, no more than one conference can be planned per year; and/or ii) - introducing food safety and quality as an item in the agenda of the next series of FAO Regional Conferences in 2004, combined with Ministerial Round-Tables on food safety. Costs would be lower than for pan-regional conferences. The series of meetings could be planned so as to cover all regions before the next Global Forum. The Council may wish to advise FAO on the appropriate preparatory processes for such conferences and/or meetings, including collaboration with WHO and countries of the region, and the mobilisation of additional resources necessary for convening them.
21. The Council may wish to underline the importance of FAO expanding its activities aimed at assisting developing countries and countries in transition in strengthening their capacities in the field of food safety, and within the framework of alliances and partnership with WHO, OIE, the World Bank and WTO. In particular, the Council may wish to advise on the provision of the additional resources necessary for the FAO technical units and their decentralised structures to cope with this higher programme priority and with the additional workload that this would imply.