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FAO's food composition activities 1

1 For more information about FAO's activities in the area of food composition, see Food, Nutrition and Agriculture, Volume 12, 1994, which focuses on this subject.

Activités de la FAO en matière de composition des aliments
Actividades de la FAO relacionadas con la composición de los alimentos

G.P. Sevenhuysen

Gustaaf Sevenhuysen, a consultant to FAO, is Associate Professor in the Department of Food and Nutrition, University of Manitoba, Canada.

In its service to governments, FAO has recognized the importance of data on the composition of foods. FAO's early World Food Surveys relied on such data. Then, as now, FAO support for agricultural planning and production relied on knowledge about the content of foods in terms of nutrients to maintain health. Information about food components is important for quality control of processed and manufactured foods, and data on food composition are crucial in providing assistance to government departments that need to assess the nutritional status of populations and groups with special physiological needs.

The need for reference documents with consistent presentation of food composition data from many sources led FAO to publish Food composition tables for international use in 1949, and again in 1954. These early descriptions of the composition of foods met important needs at the time. However, with progress in nutritional science regarding energy and nutrient requirements, as well as a greater understanding of the reasons for variability in food content, the need for more detailed data was expressed. Data with greater detail, and of the same reliability, were needed to provide better support in setting nutritional targets in food supply management or in monitoring the nutrient intakes of populations.

Several technical meetings were held in Latin America and Africa in which participants recommended that FAO publish detailed data on the content of foods by region. As a result, in 1958 FAO initiated a programme of work to publish a series of regional food composition tables during the early 1960s. Most of the tables published by FAO under this programme were produced through collaboration with the former National Center for Chronic Disease Control of the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

The first regional table to be published was the Food composition table for use in Latin America in 1961. A similar table for Africa was published in 1968, followed by tables for the Near East and Asia in 1970 and 1972, respectively. All of these tables offered consistently presented, comprehensive data. Each regional table drew information from a large number of disparate sources in many countries. The data in these tables were used in formulating government policy and in designing nutrition - and health - related interventions. They have been used as reference texts for these purposes by many government departments, institutions, industries and professionals even in recent years.

Having produced these reference documents, FAO reduced its work on food composition.

During the late 1970s and 1980s a number of important developments took place in the area of chemical analysis of foods. For example, new, more precise and more reliable methods were developed, such as high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC), which created the need to review existing data, particularly for the vitamin content of foods. The new methods also greatly improved the capacity to identify food components that had not been considered important when previous food composition data were compiled. Of greater importance is the fact that significant changes took place in the understanding of relationships between food and health during this period. Specifically, research studies associated intakes of several common components of food with the early development of certain chronic diseases. Food composition tables produced during the 1960s and 1970s did not include data on such newly identified health-related components.

In the aftermath of the 1992 International Conference on Nutrition, FAO has responded to the new needs and criteria for food composition data. The Food and Nutrition Division is formulating a revised plan of work on food composition and is implementing a number of new activities aimed at generating new food composition data. The economic benefits of good food composition data for industry and government are of central importance. With improved food composition data food producers can better meet food standards, and the application of food regulations will be more cost effective. Food composition data of comparable quality can be shared among countries, which will greatly facilitate the cross-border trade in food commodities where labelling requirements demand that information on the content of foods be available.

Work on food composition is currently carried out by national institutions, a number of which collaborate in regional groups. FAO supports these national and regional activities by organizing meetings for collaborating institutions and by publishing guidelines and manuals on common protocols to use in generating data with comparable quality and descriptions. In addition, FAO facilitates communication among the institutions that need resources to generate and manage food composition data and the wider international community. It is expected that this process of communication will promote the sharing of resources.

In the future, FAO will increase cooperation with governments and the food industry on the use of food composition data for public information and promotion of trade. These data will be useful to governments in their efforts to formulate health-related policies, set regulations for safe food and ensure secure food supplies that are adequate for the needs of all population groups.

Activités de la FAO en matière de composition des aliments

Depuis sa création, la FAO reconnaît l'importance que revêtent les données sur la composition des aliments pour la planification et la production agricoles et l'évaluation de l'état nutritionnel des populations. Le besoin de documents de référence a amené la FAO à publier, en 1949, les Tables de composition des aliments pour l'usage international. En 1958, l'Organisation a lancé un programme de publication de tableaux régionaux de composition des aliments pour l'Afrique, le Proche-Orient, l'Asie et l'Amérique latine. Dès lors, les gouvernements ont pu élaborer leur politique en la matière et mettre sur pied des interventions en matière de nutrition et de santé.

Aujourd'hui, une meilleure connaissance des relations entre l'alimentation et la santé, ainsi que la diversité du contenu des aliments exigent des données plus détaillées. Les avantages économiques qu'offrent au secteur privé comme aux pouvoirs publics des données de valeur sur la composition des aliments sont considérables. Avec des données plus fiables sur la composition des aliments, les producteurs respectent davantage les normes alimentaires et l'application des règlements alimentaires devient plus rentable.

Suite à la Conférence internationale sur la nutrition, la FAO a lancé de nouvelles activités visant à produire des données plus fiables sur la composition des aliments. Elle soutient la collaboration nationale et régionale et publie des directives et des manuels pour la production de données de qualité comparable et de descriptions d'identification. La FAO favorise la communication entre les institutions et la communauté internationale, stimulant de ce fait la mise en commun des ressources. A l'avenir, l'Organisation facilitera la coopération entre les pouvoirs publics et l'industrie alimentaire en matière d'utilisation des données sur la composition des aliments pour l'information des consommateurs et la promotion du commerce. Ces données permettront aux gouvernements de formuler des politiques de santé, d'élaborer des règlements sur la salubrité des aliments et d'assurer la sécurité alimentaire afin de répondre aux besoins de tous les groupes de population. Les besoins en matière de composition des aliments de qualité sont nombreux, et la FAO s'emploie à y répondre.

Actividades de la FAO relacionadas con la composición de los alimentos

Desde sus comienzos, la FAO ha reconocido la importancia de los datos sobre la composición de los alimentos para la planificación y producción agrícolas y para la evaluación del estado nutricional de las poblaciones. La necesidad de documentos de referencia llevó a la FAO a publicar en 1949 los Cuadros sobre la composición de los alimentos para uso internacional. En 1958 emprendió un programa de publicación de cuadros regionales sobre composición de alimentos para Africa, el Medio Oriente, Asia y América Latina. Dichos cuadros sirvieron para la formulación de políticas gubernamentales y el diseño de intervenciones relativas a la nutrición y la salud.

Actualmente, una mejor comprensión de la relación que existe entre los alimentos y la salud así como la variabilidad de los contenidos de los alimentos exigen que los datos sean más detallados. Los beneficios económicos que se derivan del manejo de datos fidedignos sobre la composición de los alimentos son de fundamental importancia para la industria y el gobierno. Disponiendo de datos actualizados sobre la composición de los alimentos los productores pueden cumplir mejor las normas alimentarias y la aplicación del reglamento alimentario será más eficaz en relación a los costos.

Después de la Conferencia Internacional sobre Nutrición, la FAO ha emprendido nuevas actividades encaminadas a obtener datos más actualizados sobre la composición de los alimentos. La Organización apoya la colaboración nacional y regional y esta publicando directrices y manuales para recabar datos de calidad y tipos de identificación semejantes. Facilita la comunicación entre las instituciones y la comunidad internacional, lo cual promoverá la aportación de recursos. En el futuro, facilitará la colaboración con los gobiernos y la industria de los alimentos en la utilización de los datos sobre la composición de los alimentos para informar al público en general y promover el comercio. Esto: datos serán útiles para ayudar a los gobiernos a formular políticas relacionadas con la salud, establecer normas sobre alimentos inocuos y garantizar suministros alimentarios seguros y suficientes para las necesidades de todos los grupos de la población. Hay una gran necesidad de que la composición de los alimentos sea de buena calidad. La FAO está satisfaciendo esta demanda.

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