The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) convened an Expert Consultation on the Trade Impact of Listeria in Fish Products through the joint efforts of its Fishery Industries Division and Food and Nutrition Division and the Department of Food Science of the University of Massachusetts. The Consultation was held at the Lincoln Campus Centre, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA from 17 to 20 May 1999. The list of participants is presented in Annex I.

Ms. Maria de Lourdes Costarrica, Senior Officer, Food Quality Liaison Group, Food and Nutrition Division, FAO opened the Expert Consultation and welcomed the participants. Prof. Fergus Clydesdale, Head, Department of Food Science, University of Massachusetts welcomed the participants to the University and to Amherst and wished them success in the week ahead.

Dr. Grimur Valdimarsson, Director, Fishery Industries Division, FAO thanked the participants on behalf of the Director-General of FAO for accepting the invitation to attend the consultation and for placing their valuable time and expertise at the disposal of FAO. He also thanked Prof. Clydesdale and his staff at the University of Massachusetts for hosting the Consultation.

Dr. Valdimarsson stated that there has been a dramatic increase in world trade of fish and fishery products over the last 10 years, particularly in developing countries. These countries have increased their net income for fish and fishery products from about US$ 3 billion to some US$ 18 billion over this period. This amounts to more than their combined income from exports of tea, coffee, meat and bananas. Currently developing countries provide about 50% of all fish and fishery products entering the global market. In recent years the global community has also been seeking a common approach for maximizing the quality and safety of all food products. This includes the use of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) approach as a means of assuring proper food handling, processing and marketing and minimizing the risk to the consumer from foodborne infections and intoxications.

The Uruguay Round of Multilateral Negotiations included a number of Agreements which have direct implications for trade in fish and fishery products and apply to Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO). These include the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) and the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement). Article 5 of the SPS Agreement requires that WTO Members ensure that their sanitary and phytosanitary measures are based on an assessment of the risks to human, animal or plant life or health, and in doing so to take into account risk assessment techniques developed by the relevant international organizations. The development of risk assessment techniques as a means of evaluating the risks associated with microbiological hazards is viewed as a priority by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) and by FAO. In recent years FAO has convened a series of international meetings on risk assessment, risk management, risk communication and risk analysis. The "Draft Principles and Guidelines for the Conduct of Microbiological Risk Assessment" have been advanced to Step 8 by the Codex Committee on Food Hygiene for adoption by the Codex Alimentarius Commission in June 1999.

Dr. Valdimarsson pointed out that there is always some risk associated with the consumption of food. These risks vary from one food to another and from one processing method to another. He also indicated that it is important that the experts in this area convey this message to the policy-makers and the public. This is of particular importance in the case of Listeria monocytogenes, a ubiquitous microorganism that may cause serious illness. Applying a strict zero-tolerance policy for this organism would effectively put a number of products out of the market, such as pre-cooked shrimp and smoked fish. He further pointed out that this meeting would discuss how these important issues could be dealt with.

In closing Dr. Valdimarsson reminded the experts that their participation in this consultation was to be in their personal capacities as international experts in the subject area and not as representatives of their governments, institutes or other organizations. He acknowledged that the participants had already done a great deal of preparation prior to the consultation and would be asked to work many additional hours in the days ahead in order to produce a report of their discussions prior to their departure from Amherst.

The consultation elected Prof. Herbert O. Hultin, Department of Food Science and Director of the Gloucester Marine Station, University of Massachusetts as Chairperson. Dr. Jeffrey Farber, Research Scientist and Head of Microbiology Research Division, Health Canada agreed to serve as Vice-Chairperson and Mr. Alan Reilly, Director, Operations Division, Food Safety Authority of Ireland agreed to serve as Rapporteur. The deliberations of the consultation were based on a number of background papers (listed in Annex II).