31 March 2003, Rome --
is a global issue which demands an integrated, global response.
But the answer to tackling the issue of
food-borne hazards which know no geographical boundaries lies
very close to home - in the farms, fields, orchards and rivers,
large or small - where our food has its source.
FAO is advocating a new approach to ensuring that the
food we eat is free from food-borne hazards - everything from
pesticides and industrial chemicals, through to unwanted
bacteria and contaminants - the "Food Chain
The system, to be
discussed during a week-long high-level Committee on Agriculture
meeting (31 March - 4 April 2003), urges prevention as well as
The key is to strengthen each and
every link in the complex process of food reaching the consumer
- from the way it is grown or raised, to how it is collected,
processed, packaged, sold and consumed.
Which came first - the chicken or the
Traditionally, the food
safety net has targeted the intermediary stages of the food
chain - when food is processed from its raw state - rather than
the initial or final stages of the food chain, where food is
grown or consumed.
But a spate of
outbreaks of food-borne diseases has highlighted the fact that
many breaches of food safety have their origins at the very
beginning of the food chain.
of BSE or "mad cow" disease, for example, was
linked to contaminated feed. It set the United Kingdom back some
US$6 billion and badly bruised consumer confidence.
Such episodes have led to heightened consumer
awareness becoming a driving force in food production.
Consumers want to know what they are eating
and where it comes from. Checking
already good standards of safety and hygiene in the meat and
dairy processing industries," said FAO Assistant
Director-General, Hartwig de Haen, "but we need to give
more consideration to hygiene on the farm and the health of the
animal, including what it is fed and how it is managed, to avoid
contamination of animal products and risks to human health from
diseases that can be transmitted to humans."
"We need to strengthen every
single part of the food chain. One weak link, especially near
the beginning, can make the whole food chain collapse,"
In developing countries almost
two million children die each year from diarrhoea, caused mainly
by microbe-contaminated food and water.
The food chain approach extends to the very end of the
food chain - the consumer - by advocating training and education
on the safe storage, preparation and consumption of food.
The problem is all the more serious as
what could once be contained within national borders now spreads
In 1999, for example, a single
source of contaminated animal feed spread the industrial
waste-product dioxin across continents in weeks.
"Frontiers no longer exist for
contaminants," de Haen said, "Chemical and
biological contaminants travel within the global market place
further and faster than ever before. We need global measures
just as we need to strengthen the whole length of the food
chain." Filling the
Sharing the responsibility
for providing safe food among all players in the food and
agriculture sector - from food producers and processors to
retailers and households - is mirrored by an approach in which
developed countries offer developing ones the resources and
experience to build their capacity to ensure their food chains
FAO's approach includes the
adoption of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) which establish
basic principles for farming, including soil and water
management, crop and animal production, storage, processing and
The aim of the food chain
approach, which incorporates these improved farming practices,
is to ensure that the food chain becomes more transparent so
national and global foodcrises can be prevented rather than
Some examples of
- Naturally-occuring toxicants
- Agricultural residues
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570