COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE
Rome, 13-16 April 2005
The International Portal for Food Safety, Animal and Plant Health
1. At its Seventeenth Session held in 2003, the Committee on Agriculture (COAG): “endorsed the concept and further work on the International Portal on Food Safety, Animal and Plant Health, in cooperation with the relevant international organizations; expressed its understanding that the Portal would include science-based information and data and/or decisions and guidelines of an intergovernmental nature, as well as any national official data and information; urged the Secretariat to make full use of synergies among organizations and information systems in order to avoid overlapping and duplication; and requested that the Secretariat report on use, resource needs, costs and usefulness of the Portal at its next session ”(para 56 of the Report).
2. Following the guidance received from COAG, FAO has led an interagency initiative to develop an internet-based portal - the International Portal on Food Safety, Animal and Plant Health. The portal is freely available at www.ipfsaph.org.
3. International information in the portal has been included through collaboration with the Organisation internationale des épizooties (OIE), the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as the secretariats of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) and the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Additional information has thus far been made accessible by the US Department of Agriculture and the European Commission Directorate for Health and Consumer Protection. The system also integrates content from FAO’s database of national legislation “FAOLEX”.
4. The resulting portal enables an authoritative search for current standards, regulations, risk assessments, decisions, official communications, notifications, and official contact points in the areas of food safety, animal and plant health from a single access point.
5. The portal has been designed to be accessible over slow internet connections, with commonly-requested pages ‘cached’ to ensure that they are presented quickly.
6. The portal ‘harvests’ information from specific source websites. Responsibility for the accuracy and timeliness of the data is retained by the source site, and duplication of information and of efforts is avoided wherever possible.
7. Version 1.0 of the portal was launched on 25 May 2004. Following promotional activities including a direct link on the FAO home page, the portal received daily requests for over 20 000 page views during its first week of operation.1 Statistics from the period of July to September 2004 indicate that use is averaging 20–35 000 page views per week, or a range of 80–135 000 page views per month.2
8. Where it is possible to establish the location of a user, statistics (September 2004) indicate that most users are in OECD countries, but the portal also receives heavy use in the major agricultural trading countries in Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay) and other locations as diverse as Croatia, Morocco, South Africa, Thailand and the Ukraine. Users have been identified from over 120 countries.
9. Users arrive at the site either through clicking on a link to the site (such as those on the FAO site at www.fao.org/biosecurity/ ) or via a search engine, with 15 percent of users arriving via Google.
10. By examining search phrases entered by users, it is possible to understand something of the range and purpose of their visits.
11. Analysis of the searches performed in September 2004 indicates that Codex-related searches amounted to 11 percent of queries; general food safety a further 9 percent, with animal health comprising 16 percent and plant health 7 percent. The balance is made up of cross-sector searches, or searches for a known piece of legislation.
12. The project costs for the two year period April 2003 to March 2005 have amounted to approximately US$1 200 000, with contributions from the governments of the United States, the Netherlands and Norway, as well as Regular Programme arrears.
13. Although no major fundraising activities have yet been undertaken, the project also attracted additional funding from the Standards and Trade Development Facility of the WTO.
14. The portal represents collaboration between the Food and Nutrition (ESN), the Plant Production and Protection (AGP), and the Animal Production and Health (AGA) divisions, and contributes to the programme of work of the IPPC and the Codex Alimentarius Commission.
15. The costs of running the International Portal on Food Safety, Animal and Plant Health – beginning with the biennium 2006-2007 - are estimated at US$500 000 per annum. This level of funding would guarantee the service, and allow the extension of coverage to additional developing countries.
16. The portal is useful to both developing and developed countries; it is a source of information on requirements for import of certain commodities into major markets, of trade concerns and published risk assessments and other scientific evaluations affecting trade. Contributing data to the portal helps countries increase the transparency of their measures, thus improving the confidence of their trading partners. The process of including information in the portal can help countries improve the organization of their information.
17. User feedback in the six months following launch indicates a high level of satisfaction with the portal. Responses during demonstrations at the WTO Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) and Codex Alimentarius Commission meetings have been favourable. More extensive work to obtain systematic user feedback is planned for the next six months. The project team will be conducting surveys and interviews during appropriate FAO governing body meetings and will also work with the WTO/Joint Integrated Technical Assistance Programme to obtain developing country feedback on usability and overall usefulness of the portal.
18. Following the initial release of the portal, an external consultant report concluded that Version 1.0 of the portal could be enhanced by increasing the depth of material available in the Codex area, with the incorporation of supporting analyses on pesticide residues, veterinary drug residues, food additives and microbiological contaminants.
19. Work is also underway to enhance the level of integration of the portal with the source sites to minimize maintenance costs and eliminate duplication wherever possible.
20. Capacity-building activities will include:
21. Through this work, it is envisaged that further arrangements can be made with countries to load national information.
22. A side event is scheduled to be held during the Nineteenth Session of COAG (April 2005), including a live demonstration of the portal.
1 The definition of page view used here is a page called up by a user navigating (clicking through) the site, or by a user searching the site using the search function.
2 These figures specifically exclude pages requested by internet indexing services (so-called ‘crawlers’). By comparison the FAO home page receives around 240 000 page views per month (August 2004).