Hundred and Twenty-seventh Session
Rome, 22 – 27 November 2004
Outcome of the Second FAO/WHO Global Forum of Food Safety Regulators
1. At its 124th Session (June 2003), the Council stressed the importance for Members to build effective national food safety systems to ensure consumer protection and facilitate food trade. It recognized the critical role of FAO in providing the necessary assistance and guidance to Member countries in this regard. It endorsed the proposal that FAO convene, jointly with WHO, the Second Global Forum of Food Safety Regulators with the main theme of “Building effective food safety systems” and the Regional Conference on Food Safety for Asia and the Pacific. It requested that the latter focus on practical actions to promote food safety in the region.
2. The Second Global Forum of Food Safety Regulators (GF-2) was jointly convened by FAO and WHO in Bangkok, Thailand, from 12 to 14 October 2004, to give the opportunity to food safety regulatory officials from developed and developing countries of all regions to exchange experiences and develop partnerships in an effort to build more effective food safety systems. Approximately 400 participants, representing ninety member countries and ten international governmental and non-governmental organizations attended the Forum.
3. The Forum was completely funded from extra-budgetary resources provided by the G-8 countries, the European Community and other OECD countries. These resources made it possible to support the participation of 81 delegates from 42 least developed countries, and covered the cost of translation of the working documents and interpretation into the six official languages of both FAO and WHO. In addition, the Government of France provided the services of a senior expert for a period of two years to assist the joint Secretariat in preparing and convening GF-2. The Government of Thailand supported the local costs of convening GF-2 and assisted with local arrangements.
4. In order to focus the discussions, a limited number of topics were selected, in consultation with Member countries, and grouped under two sub-themes: Strengthening official food safety control services and Epidemio-surveillance of food borne diseases and food safety rapid alert systems. Following plenary discussions, two parallel working groups, one for each sub-theme, were organized to identify practical actions to promote food safety and suggest possible partnerships to facilitate the transfer of best practices and the exchange of information. In addition to the working papers, delegations prepared some 100 Conference Room Documents on various topics covered by the Forum. These documents, along with the Summary of the Chair, are posted on a dedicated website: www.foodsafetyforum.org/global2.
The following results were highlighted in the Summary of the Chair:
5. Many countries have introduced in-depth changes to their food safety systems to improve effectiveness and shared their experiences with the Forum participants. Other countries can learn from these experiences when revising their own systems.
6. Revising food safety systems requires strong political commitment to change relevant laws and institutional arrangements.
7. All three existing organizational structures for national food control systems (single agency, integrated system and multiple agencies) can be effective, provided that responsibilities are clearly defined, that they cover the entire farm to fork continuum and that coordination is well formalized.
8. Codex standards, guidelines and recommendations should, to the extent possible, be used as the basis for national food legislation to promote global harmonization.
9. Providing training, formal and informal, to persons involved at all levels of the food chain, including food handlers and consumers is essential. Farmers should be educated in the production of safe food, in particular through the application of good agricultural practices, including integrated pest management. The application of good manufacturing practices and the observance of hygienic principles in food production are pre-requisite to the prevention of food borne diseases.
10. National surveillance systems should be targeted toward the largest public health problems and integrate relevant data across the entire food production and distribution chain, including data on animal and plant health and human disease. Surveillance data also needs to be linked to risk management and risk communication activities. The integration of data will enable attribution of disease burden to food source, and thereby provide a basis for targeted interventions.
11. The Forum witnessed the inauguration of the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN), aimed at enabling real-time interaction and sharing of information and experiences on food safety. The network will include an emergency arm to be activated in case of major food borne disease or food contamination incidents.
12. Compliance with food import requirements of developed countries and meeting the food safety needs of domestic consumers can place heavy constraints on food safety systems in developing countries. It was pointed out that while the WTO Agreement allows for recognition of equivalence, many developing countries are having difficulty proving that their food safety systems are indeed equivalent to those of their trading partners. It was agreed that because of the importance of food safety and food trade, food safety systems in developing countries should be supported through technical assistance, capacity building and partnerships, as specified in the provisions of the SPS Agreement.
13. The Forum stressed the importance of clear communication on issues related to foods derived from modern biotechnology and recognition of consumer concerns. However, it also acknowledged the existence of internationally agreed Codex principles and guidelines for the assessment of food safety risk related to GM foods. The Forum noted that a case-by-case, step-by-step pre-market evaluation of each new GM food is necessary to ensure the safety of these products.
14. The Forum recognized that the role of the Codex Alimentarius Commission in establishing international standards for food safety and quality is complementary to the role of the Global Forum in exchanging information and discussing collaborative actions towards promoting a safer food supply.
15. Participants were generally in favour of the organization of a Third Global Forum (GF-3), but held different views on the objective (sharing of information or making recommendations) and the format (forum on general themes or workshop on a particular topic(s)). No decision was reached on this matter. The Joint FAO/WHO Secretariat will conduct an e-forum to solicit the views of the Member countries on the subject. The results would be presented to delegations attending the next session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (July 2005).
16. At the request of the delegates at the 13th Session of the Codex Coordinating Committee for Asia, the Regional Conference on Food Safety for Asia and the Pacific was jointly convened by FAO and WHO, in Seremban, Malaysia, from 24 to 27 May 2004, to facilitate discussion on practical actions and recommendations to promote food safety in the region. It was attended by over 230 high ranking policy officers and technical experts from 35 Asia and Pacific Member countries and territories, as well as 10 international organizations. The Government of Malaysia generously provided for all the local expenses, while the travel of 35 participants from low and lower middle income member countries of the region was funded by extra-budgetary support.
17. Five main themes were discussed at the Conference, aided by working papers prepared by various countries of the region. Countries and organizations also submitted Conference Room Documents regarding specific aspects of their food safety systems. These themes were further discussed in two parallel working groups. The complete report (in English) of the Conference, including all the papers and Conference Room Documents is available from a dedicated website: http://www.foodsafetyforum.org/asian. The Conference was conducted in English and Chinese, with the complete Chinese report available in due course.
18. The Conference concluded that the countries of the region have recognized the enormous gap between the scale and cost of food borne illnesses and their capacity to address them. Within this context, the Conference made numerous practical recommendations to bridge this gap, including the following key points:
19. At the request of the Member states of the respective regions, FAO and WHO are in the process of planning Regional Conferences on Food Safety in the Near East, Africa, and the Americas and the Caribbean to be held in 2005 in a similar format to those held in Europe in 2002 and in Asia and the Pacific in 2004.
20. The Twenty-third FAO Regional Conference for Africa (Johannesburg, South Africa, 1 to 5 March 2004) supported the convening of an FAO/WHO Regional Conference on Food Safety for Africa in principle, and advised that the Permanent Representatives to FAO in Rome should continue their discussions with FAO/WHO Secretariat to agree on the time and venue of the Conference and further details on the themes and organization of the Conference. The African Group of Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives to FAO (at a meeting held on 4 May 2004) supported the offer of Zimbabwe to host such Conference in 2005, which was accepted by the Director-General of FAO. The venue of the Conference is contingent upon approval by the Director-General of WHO. Discussions on the technical content of the Conference were held in conjunction with the 27th Session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) (Geneva, 29 June 2004) and with GF-2 (Bangkok, 14 October 2004).
21. FAO and WHO convened a meeting with the delegates of Latin America and the Caribbean attending the 27th Session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Geneva, 2 July 2004) to confirm their interest in organizing a regional food safety conference and discuss the possible technical content of such a conference. Because of the regional structure of WHO and in an effort to invite every FAO and WHO member country to a regional food safety conference, FAO and WHO agreed to include the Governments of Canada and the United States of America in future planning and in the Conference itself. The venue of such Conference is still pending consideration by FAO and WHO of all such offers. The Conference would be held during the second half of 2005.
22. The participants at an informal meeting held with the delegations of the countries of the Near East region attending the 27th Session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission confirmed the interest of the region in holding a regional conference on food safety. The participants also indicated the mutual benefits of holding such a conference in connection with the Third Session of the Codex Coordinating Committee for the Near East (Amman, Jordan, 7 to 10 March 2005), which would allow food safety officers from health, agriculture and other relevant sectors to meet to further discuss issues of importance to the region. The delegation of Jordan (current Codex Coordinator for the Near East) welcomed the idea of holding the meetings jointly and offered full cooperation in the organization of the Conference.