Food additives database online


Analysing food samples in Lebanon (FAO/19022/R. Faidutti)

All countries need access to reliable information on the risks associated with various chemicals in food, but relatively few have the expertise and funds needed to carry out separate risk assessments on large numbers of chemicals. To address this need, FAO has just launched a searchable online compendium of identity and purity specifications of more than 1 000 food additives.

The specifications are divided into two databases: one covering flavouring agents and the other covering all other food additives. Users can search the databases by additive name or number, using several international numbering identification systems. For additives other than flavouring agents, they can also search by functional use and purity criteria. Searches can also be conducted for all specifications designated as tentative, which means the specifications prepared are considered incomplete. An online guide accompanies the databases to ensure proper reading, interpretation and use of the specifications.

This new tool is a result of the work of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), an international expert scientific committee that is administered jointly by FAO and WHO. Begun in 1956 to evaluate the safety of food additives, the committee's work now also includes the evaluation of contaminants, naturally occurring toxicants and residues of veterinary drugs in food.

To date, JECFA has evaluated more than 1 300 food additives, about 25 contaminants and naturally occurring toxicants, and residues of approximately 80 veterinary drugs. It has also developed principles for the safety assessment of chemicals in food that are consistent with current thinking on risk assessment and take into account recent developments in toxicology and other relevant sciences.

JECFA specifications of food additives are intended to serve as a guide for manufacturers and users, as well as the basis for new or revised national legislation or regulations of FAO and WHO member countries.

20 August 2001

Click here to access the databases (available in Arabic, English, French and Spanish).
Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives
FAO Food and Nutrition Division


New CD-ROM highlights Andean crops


Women in a potato field in Peru (FAO/17442/Odoul)

The FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean has just launched a new CD-ROM on Andean crops.

The Andean ecosystem is considered one of the eight centres of origin of crop plants in the world. Many of these crops, such as potatoes and maize, contribute significantly to world food security. The region is also a rich source of relatively unknown and underexploited crops and genetic resources with great potential benefits for agriculture, food security and commercial use.

Despite the wealth of natural resources in the region, however, more than half of the rural population lives in poverty, and malnutrition and food insecurity are widespread. Large segments of the population could benefit from the exceptional nutritional value of many of the region's underexploited species.

The CD-ROM, "Cultivos Andinos", includes 12 previously published books and two new publications on Andean crops prepared by FAO and other institutions. The aim is to provide an analysis of the characteristics of these plants and to identify possible areas for further investigation to facilitate their reintroduction in areas where they have traditionally been cultivated, as well as expansion into other ecosystems. The CD-ROM is a practical tool aimed at generating renewed interest in these underutilized Andean crops among other institutions active in the field as well as potential donors who could aid the development of these crops.

The CD focuses on quinoa and amaranth for their high nutritional value and their commercial appeal on international markets. It also includes an extensive photo gallery with images of these plants. A second CD, to be published within the next two years, will highlight Andean roots, tubers and fruits.

The CD-ROM is available only in Spanish and is free of charge. For more information, contact Juan Izquierdo, Plant Production Officer, Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, ( or visit the regional office's Plant Production Web site.

13 August 2001

Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean
International Year of Mountains


New Web site for FAO's NGO partners

Non-governmental and civil society organizations (NGOs/CSOs) now have a dedicated Web site that provides up-to-date information on FAO activities, events and key issues relevant to their work.

The FAO-NGO/CSO Web site is the first Web-based tool specifically designed for non-governmental and civil society organizations interested in FAOís work. The site includes sections on partnerships and cooperation, FAO field activities in which NGO/CSO participation is particularly important, information and documents, and a very useful section explaining what FAO is and how to navigate its site. There is also a special focus on NGO/CSO participation in the World Food Summit: five years later.

The Web site is available in English, French and Spanish and will soon be available in Arabic.

7 August 2001

NGO/CSO Web site


Web site helps countries in new trade environment

Helping FAO member countries, including developing countries and countries in transition, be fully informed, equal partners in the current round of trade negotiations on agriculture is the focus of a new FAO Web site.

The site, Trade in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, contains information on trade-related accords like the World Trade Organization's Agreement on Agriculture and developments on ongoing trade negotiations. It also lists upcoming events, FAO publications and links. A glossary spells out about 100 trade-related acronyms.

World trade in agriculture, fisheries and forestry totals US$460 billion a year. In addition to providing an essential source of foreign exchange earnings, trade is a crucial component of food security. FAO is dedicated to providing countries with the technical assistance they need to derive maximum benefit from global trade.

The site is available in Arabic, English, French and Spanish.

6 August 2001

Trade in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Web site


Roles of Agriculture project goes online



FAO recently launched a new Web site highlighting its Roles of Agriculture project. The three-year project, which began in August 2000, aims to analyse the various impacts of agriculture on the environment, society and culture, beyond its traditionally known contributions to economic growth and food security.

Over the next two years, the project will conduct 12 case studies in four regions -- Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean and the Near East and North Africa. It will pay greater attention to Asia and Africa due to the severity of the poverty and food insecurity situations there. The objective of the project is to provide policy-makers with tools to examine the roles of agriculture in their countries and pursue sustainable agricultural and rural development policies.

The new Web site ( provides updated information on the project's activities, access to key documents and major research findings. The Web site also offers background and contact information as well as useful links. The site is available in English, French and Spanish.

31 July 2001

Roles of Agriculture Web site
Sustainable agriculture and rural development: Reporting on progress on chapters 10, 12 and 14 of Agenda 21
FAO Agriculture Department



Small farmer groups: finding power in numbers



Groups of small-scale farmers can increase their productivity, profits and bargaining power by joining with other similar groups. These associations are important fora where small-scale farmers can acquire new skills in the management of larger organizations. Such groups can also serve as useful development vehicles, not only helping farmers solve their own problems but making it easier for governments to assist them in their efforts.

A new FAO publication, The inter-group resource book: A guide to building small farmer group associations and networks, shows how, using a participatory approach, inter-group associations can be established in rural areas. The third in a series of FAO manuals on small farmer group development, it is intended for use by group promoters, extension workers and other rural development staff to help existing farmer associations join forces and run inter-group enterprises. Other books in the series are The group promoter's resource book: a practical guide to building rural self-help groups and The group enterprise resource book.

The publication is available in English, with Arabic, French and Spanish translations forthcoming. It can be ordered through the Sales and Marketing Group, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy; by fax at +39 (06) 5705 3360; or by email at The full publication can also be downloaded in pdf format.

30 July 2001

The inter-group resource book: A guide to building small farmer group associations and networks (in pdf)
The group promoter's resource book: a practical guide to building rural self-help groups (in pdf)
The group enterprise resource book (in pdf)
FAO Sustainable Development Department Web site
FAO publications catalogue


Contract farming: partnerships for growth

Today most small farmers around the world are independent producers who sell their produce individually and have little bargaining power with suppliers or markets. But farmers and agribusinesses are increasingly linking up in mutually beneficial arrangements.

Under this method of production, called contract farming, farmers and processing firms agree before seeds are sown as to what crops the farmer will grow and, often, the price the firm will pay for the resulting harvest. This protects farmers from market fluctuations and guarantees that processors have adequate supplies of the produce they need. Contract farming also operates in the poultry, livestock and dairy industries.

Contract farming -- Partnerships for growth is a new FAO publication from the Marketing and Farm Supply Group of FAO. It aims to provide practical advice on contract farming operations to key players in the field.

The publication -- now available in English, with French and Spanish versions planned for next year -- describes in detail how contract farming works and provides advice on how to start and improve such operations. It also offers guidance to government officials seeking to promote or monitor contract farming.

It can be ordered through the Sales and Marketing Group, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy; by fax at +39 (06) 5705 3360; or by email at

26 July 2001

Internet version of Contract farming -- Partnerships for growth
How to buy Contract farming -- Partnerships for growth
Article on contract farming: Agribusiness and small farmers
Marketing and Farm Supply Group of FAO
FAO publications catalogue



Latin American experts promote appropriate biotechnology

Conventional technologies are not sufficient to make Latin American and Caribbean agriculture competitive either at home or on the world market. Therefore, appropriate biotechnology must be developed and used to support the growth of the region's agriculture and forestry.

This is one of the conclusions from the Fourth Latin American meeting on Plant Biotechnology. The meeting, which took place in Goiãnia, Brazil 4-8 June, was hosted by FAO's Technical Co-operation Network on Plant Biotechnology (REDBIO). More than 750 participants from 26 countries and numerous research institutions participated in discussions about strategies to promote development of plant biotechnology in the region. Among the topics discussed were genetically modified organisms, molecular biology, intellectual property rights and food security.

Another message from the meeting was the need for scientific risk/benefit analysis. "Considering the current and potential deep implications of biotechnology … the participation of the scientists in the public debate on the benefits and risks of the application of modern technologies must be favoured and promoted," the final meeting declaration says. The involvement of all stakeholders, and especially the members of the REDBIO network, is also important in this debate, it adds.

The declaration laments the lack of attention to the seriousness of food insecurity and the degradation of natural resources, especially water and soil. In addition it highlights the need for strengthening research on biotechnology and the urgency of using appropriate biotechnological techniques to protect genetic resources and biodiversity. The declaration also emphasizes safe and responsible use of biotechnology, especially in fragile environments and lower income countries.

REDBIO has operated since 1991 and has 619 affiliated institutions in 32 countries in Latin America. The network is recognized by FAO as a cooperation mechanism in technical assistance in agri-biotechnology comprising over 2300 experts in related areas. Members include world-renowned experts in plant biotechnology research and development.

6 July 2001

Declaration of Goiania (in pdf)
IV fourth Latin American meeting on Plant Biotechnology (REDBIO 2001)
The Technical Co-operation Network on Plant Biotechnology (REDBIO/FAO)



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