82. The Workshop was chaired by Mr Jos Goebbels, Director of Food Inspection, National Food and Consumer Products Safety Authority in the Netherlands.
83. In order to launch the discussion, the following Conference Room Documents (CRDs) were presented:
CRD 84 by WHO Regional Office, on its support to member countries;
CRD 24 by China, CRD 25 by Norway, CRD 40 by Germany, CRD 54 by Thailand and CRD 61 by Uganda on their national food safety systems;
CRD 2 by Jordan, on its risk based food import control system;
CRD 23 by Safe Food International, on consensus between consumers and public health organization.
84. The Workshop recognized that both developed and developing countries should enhance their capacities, and their food safety activities should be based on science. While industry takes the prime responsibility to provide safe food, food safety is a shared responsibility which involves industry, governments and consumers. Countries supported the single agency and the integrated food safety systems. Emphasis was put on locally consumed products and small scale producers. 85. Delegates pleaded for better cooperation between countries to improve international trade control, in particular between adjacent countries and for the follow-up of rejected consignments.
86. The Workshop then focused on three important issues.
(i) Difference of standards between domestic and international markets
The Workshop noted that government commitment is essential for food control capacity as far as the local market is concerned. They should not just support the private sector to export and food safety authorities should use experience gained in matching export demand to improve food safety in their own domestic market. This does not mean that export requirements should systematically apply in domestic markets; this should be based on a risk assessment on the understanding that a preventive approach is preferable. Since industry is considered as having the prime responsibility for safe food, food safety control services should not concentrate most of their means on export control, but equally balance the allocation of their resources to control of both domestic and export markets. The gap between developed and developing countries is getting bigger because developing countries lack or do not prioritize the necessary resources and expertise. Therefore, international agencies should help them to assess their capacity needs and importing countries should help developing countries to build capacity. The Workshop noted with satisfaction the offer of the European Commission in this field.
(ii) Sound sciences as a basis to food safety measures
The Workshop recalled that even though it is important to develop expertise to ensure that measures have rationale, it is generally simpler to base national standards and systems on standards, codes of practice and guidelines of the Codex Alimentarius. It highlighted that since food safety control represents a large number of various activities while the resources are limited, resources should be focused where they will have the most impact and priorities should be determined in relation to public health goals. Food safety regulators have to deal not only with risks as assessed by sciences but also consumer perception of the risk, consumers should be aware of extra costs related to their demands. The consultation of stakeholders is well recognized as essential, but the Workshop deplored that language used in food safety is often too obscure and not always consistent; to be effective risk communication should be carried out using simple language.
(iii) Keep it simple
Although science is not simple, particularly the sophistication of detection techniques in the laboratory, the Workshop insisted on the need for organized food safety activities to be kept as simple as possible. Transparency is generally required to inform consumers; systems which are too complicated will not improve it but will confuse consumers. Countries should tailor their national food safety systems to their needs but "not re-invent the wheel". They should build on existing experiences; therefore sharing experience is essential. In general it is not possible to obtain all details in a short time and action needs to be taken without delay. Therefore, to be effective food safety authorities should not wait for the last details before solving problems. The Workshop recalled that good hygienic practices (GHP) are a prerequisite to HACCP implementation and underlined that effective GHP systems are better than a non effective sophisticated HACCP.