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Improving food safety and strengthening
consumer confidence in Europe


Niek Schelling is Food Quality and Safety Officer in the FAO Food and Nutrition Division

Pan-European Conference on Food Safety and Quality

Concerns over food safety and quality are increasing worldwide. They are priority issues for governments, food producers, industry, traders and consumers alike. The burden of food-borne disease is significant in all parts of the world; for some important food-borne hazards, the reported incidence of disease has increased over the last decades. In the European region, some food safety and quality problems in recent years have endangered consumers' health. This situation has caused a deterioration of consumer confidence with respect to some aspects of food supply, and has also negatively affected the situation of European farmers and food producers. The result has been that member countries feel a need to strengthen their food safety and quality systems in a sustainable way. Members are eager to reduce the level of food-borne disease, to restore the confidence of consumers and to improve the conditions of food production and trade within Europe and beyond.

The initiative to hold a Pan-European Conference on Food Safety and Quality originated at the 22nd FAO Regional Conference for Europe, held in Porto, Portugal, from 24 to 28 July 2000. On that occasion, the Minister of Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries of the Netherlands, Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, proposed a Pan-European Food Safety Initiative to strengthen and harmonize food-safety policies across Europe. This initiative was endorsed and FAO was requested to organize, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), the first Pan-European Conference.

Objectives of the conference

After two preparatory meetings with the European member countries of FAO and WHO, it was decided that the Pan-European Conference would be convened to identify and discuss food safety and quality issues of specific importance to the European region. The conference would provide possible solutions to improve food safety and quality conditions across Europe. The following guidelines were identified as potential contributions for food safety and quality improvements in Europe:

It was generally acknowledged that in order to improve food safety and quality, the whole food chain should be taken into consideration, from the primary producer to the consumer. The Conference Preparatory Meeting agreed that the two main themes to be addressed should be:

Several member countries and organizations contributed background papers to inform and facilitate discussion at the conference. Some of these papers dealt with specific food safety and quality items, and others highlighted food safety situations and concerns in a number of European countries. The papers also provided suggestions for improvements in the food production chain for discussion by the conference participants. The following background papers were presented:

Conference discussions

Over 200 participants from 46 member countries of FAO and WHO, the European Commission and more than 20 international organizations attended the four-day Pan-European Conference in Budapest, Hungary, held from 25 to 28 February 2002. During the opening ceremony led by the Hungarian Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, His Excellency András Vonza, FAO and WHO highlighted the importance of availability of safe food and the necessity to protect consumers' health.

In his keynote address, the Minister of Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries of the Netherlands, His Excellency Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, mentioned the impact of the enlargement of the EU on food trade and stressed the importance of improving food safety controls. He emphasized the importance for members of harmonizing food safety and quality regulations with international standards while preserving food and diet diversity.

Four days of discussion in plenary sessions and working-group meetings took place with lively and constructive contributions from all participants. Background papers and suggestions were thoroughly discussed, and ideas were developed to enhance European cooperation in policy and scientific development and to improve communication and transparency. At the end of the conference, a report was provided with recommendations to improve food safety and quality conditions in the European region.

Conference recommendations

The conference provided a number of main recommendations for political consideration at the regional conferences of FAO and WHO in 2002. A list of technical recommendations was also presented to give guidance to processes of food safety and quality improvement.

In the first place, it was recommended that European countries should work together to reduce food safety risks and the incidence of food-borne diseases. Many member countries must modernize their legislation and adjust it to inter-national standards such as the Codex Alimentarius. It was firmly advised that all stakeholders in the food chain, including primary producers, control organizations and consumers, should take full responsibility for implementing food safety improvements. Likewise transparency and effectiveness of safe food production and control systems need to be reinforced. Furthermore, communication with consumers about food safety risks should be improved and expanded.

All stakeholders in the food production chain have to invest in food safety and control to regain the consumer confidence. So not only governmental organizations, but also farmers, feed manufacturers, the food industry and traders must be aware of their responsibilities to provide healthy food

Other recommendations focused on improvement of risk control and surveillance systems through capacity building and training. Cooperation in risk assessment and food safety research is a necessary tool for achieving progress. Participation in commonly operated emergency detection and response systems will reduce food safety risks and improve conditions for trade.

The 23rd FAO Regional Conference for Europe

The Ministerial Round Table, held during the 23rd FAO Regional Conference for Europe, endorsed the recommendations of the Pan-European Conference and requested all member countries and stakeholders in the food chain to begin implementing them. The regional conference highlighted the need for intra-regional cooperation in food safety matters and the need to preserve food diversity throughout Europe.

The regional conference took further note of the importance of food safety in the enlargement process of the EU and of the call for FAO and WHO to play an enhanced role in assisting countries that are not part of the enlargement process. It was highlighted that the levels of food safety and quality in the European region still needed to be improved, and measures should be found to gain consumer confidence and ensure consumer protection. A follow-up to the Pan-European Conference recommendations was called for, covering the 22 countries in Central and Eastern Europe and targeted at methodologies for risk analysis, capacity building and rapid alert.

The issues of food safety and quality were proposed as major items on the agenda of the 24th FAO Regional Conference for Europe to be held in 2004. These items could be technically prepared within the framework of the 33rd Session of the European Commission on Agriculture to be held in early 2004. Both events could be utilized to evaluate follow-up activities of the Pan-European Conference recommendations and to set new priorities to support food safety and quality in Europe.

Further information and recent developments on Pan-European Conference issues can be found on the Web site of the Conference: /paneuropean/

summary résumé resumen

Improving food safety and strengthening consumer confidence in Europe

FAO AND WHO jointly convened the Pan-European Conference on Food Safety and Quality in Budapest, Hungary, 25-28 February 2002. The conference was held to identify public health and trade concerns of foodstuffs and to find ways to improve food safety and quality across Europe.Over 200 delegates and observers participated in the discussions and provided a final report with recommendations. These recommendations focused on harmonization of food safety policies, capacity building to strengthen food control systems and improvement of food safety transparency. Three months later, the recommendations were endorsed by the Ministerial Round Table at the 23rd FAO Regional Conference for Europe (Nicosia, Cyprus, 29-31 May 2002). On that occasion, FAO was requested to provide technical assistance to transition countries that are not directly involved in the enlargement process of the European Union. The outcome of the Pan-European Conference was also discussed at the 52nd Session of the WHO Regional Committee (Copenhagen, September 2002).Henceforth FAO, together with WHO, will focus follow-up activities on assisting eligible countries in modernizing food safety legislation, improving control capacity and building food safety information networks.

Améliorer la sécurité sanitaire des aliments et renforcer la confiance du consommateur en Europe

LA FAO ET L'OMS se sont unies pour organiser la Conférence paneuropéenne sur la sécurité sanitaire et la qualité des aliments, qui s'est tenue à Budapest (Hongrie) du 25 au 28 février 2002. L'objectif de la Conférence était d'identifier les problèmes de santé publique et de commerce, liés aux échanges de denrées alimentaires, et de trouver les moyens d'améliorer la sécurité sanitaire et la qualité des aliments en Europe.Plus de 200 délégués et observateurs ont participé aux discussions et un rapport final, assorti de recommandations, a été rédigé. Ces recommandations traitent particulièrement de l'harmonisation des politiques de sécurité sanitaire des aliments, du renforcement des capacités dans le domaine des systèmes de contrôle des aliments, ainsi que d'une plus grande transparence en matière de sécurité sanitaire des aliments. Trois mois plus tard, les recommandations ont été approuvées par la Table ronde ministérielle organisée lors de la vingt-troisième Conférence régionale de la FAO pour l'Europe (Nicosie, 29-31 mai 2002). A cette occasion, on a demandé à la FAO d'apporter une assistance technique aux pays en transition qui ne participent pas directement au processus d'élargissement de la Communauté européenne. Les résultats de la Conférence paneuropéenne ont également été examinés lors de la cinquante-deuxième session du Comité régional de l'OMS (Copenhague, septembre 2002). Dorénavant, la FAO ainsi que l'OMS axeront davantage leurs activités de suivi sur l'aide fournie aux pays remplissant les conditions requises afin de moderniser leur législation sur la sécurité sanitaire des aliments, d'améliorer leurs capacités de contrôle et de mettre en place des réseaux d'information dans ce domaine.

Mejora de la inocuidad de los alimentos, y fortalecimiento de la confianza del consumidor en Europa

LA FAO Y LA OMS convocaron conjuntamente la Conferencia Paneuropea sobre Inocuidad y Calidad de los Alimentos, que se celebró en Budapest del 25 al 28 de febrero de 2002. El objetivo de la Confe-rencia era determinar las preocupaciones en materia de salud pública y de comercio en el ámbito de los alimentos y encontrar formas de mejorar la inocuidad y la calidad de los alimentos en Europa. Más de 200 delegados y observadores participaron en los debates y confeccionaron un informe final con recomendaciones. En dichas recomendaciones se prestaba especial atención a la armonización de las políticas sobre inocuidad de los alimentos, la creación de capacidad para reforzar los sistemas de control de los alimentos y el aumento de la transparencia en el ámbito de la inocuidad de los alimentos. Tres meses más tarde, la Mesa Redonda Ministerial hizo suyas las recomendaciones en la 23ª Confe-rencia Regional de la FAO para Europa (celebrada en Nicosia del 29 al 31 de mayo de 2002). En esa ocasión, se pidió a la FAO que prestara asistencia técnica a los países en transición que no participan directamente en el proceso de ampliación de la Comunidad Europea. Los resultados de la Conferencia Paneuropea también se discutieron en la 52ª reunión del Comité Regional de la OMS (Copenhague, septiembre de 2002). En lo sucesivo, la FAO, junto con la OMS, centrará sus actividades de seguimiento en ayudar a los países candidatos a modernizar la legislación relativa a la inocuidad de los alimentos, mejorar la capacidad de control y crear redes de información sobre la inocuidad de los alimentos.

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