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This report was discussed by the participants during the conclusion of the Forum, but was not formally adopted as it was only available in English. As such, it is intended to reflect the Chairmen's views rather than the views of the entire Forum.

The Second FAO/WHO Global Forum of Food Safety Regulators was convened under the main theme of Building effective food safety systems. It discussed a number of topics under the following sub-themes: Strengthening official food safety control services and Epidemio-surveillance of food-borne diseases and food safety rapid alert systems. A total of 394 participants from 90 countries and several international and non-governmental organizations participated in the Forum.

For each sub-theme and topic, working papers were presented by food safety experts and discussed in plenary session. Likewise, a large number of Conference Room Documents provided opportunity for direct exchange of country experiences. Some of these were presented and discussed in two parallel workshops. Delegates actively participated in the discussions and openly expressed their concerns, explaining the difficulties they face and the ways in which they try to deal with them. It became very clear that food-borne disease is a problem in both developing and developed countries, causing an unacceptably high level of human suffering and resulting in high costs to society. The role of the Codex Alimentarius Commission in establishing international standards for food safety and quality was recognized as complementary to the role of the Global Forum in exchanging information and discussing collaborative actions towards promoting a safer food supply.

It became clear that profound changes to food safety systems are presently taking place in some countries and that many other countries can learn from these experiences when revising their own systems.

The Forum discussed specific future needs in three main areas:

Learning from each other:

Political commitment and simplification of legal systems: Based on the experiences shared by the participants at the Forum, it was recognized that there is a need for a strong political commitment and solid legal basis to support food safety control systems and actions. This commitment should be part of a national strategy based on the sharing of responsibilities among food safety authorities, farmers, food processors and manufacturers, food traders, caterers and consumers with effective national and sub-national coordination. Based on this commitment, a simplification of the legal system for food control, which in many countries is still fragmented and excessively complex, is necessary. It was noted that several countries now have a single food law enabling unified, integrated action.

A unified approach to food safety management: The Forum noted with interest that a number of countries have taken concrete action to re-organize their food safety systems towards a unified or integrated structure. This approach should provide the basis for the involvement of all stakeholders, working together toward a common goal and helping to ensure a holistic approach to food safety. This approach also allows for the comparison and balancing of different risks and maximizing outcomes on the basis of existing resources.

It became clear that all three existing organizational structures for national food control systems (multiple agency, single agency and integrated systems) can be effective, provided that responsibilities are clearly defined, that they cover the entire farm to fork continuum and that coordination is well formalized. Key elements for managing food safety control services include a risk-based prioritization system, clear task definition, proper training of staff, harmonization of goals and objectives and crisis preparedness.

Integration of data to enable action: It was explained that national surveillance systems should be targeted toward the largest public health problems and integrate relevant data across the entire food production and distribution chain, including data on animal and plant health and human disease. Surveillance data also needs to be linked to risk management and risk communication activities. The integration of data will enable attribution of disease burden to food source, and thereby provide a basis for targeted interventions. It was pointed out that although the use of surveillance and other data to describe the scientific reality may be done at international level, risk management options and risk communication messages need to be country specific.

Prevention of disease through good practices: The importance of providing training, formal and informal, at all levels of the food chain, including food handlers and consumers was highlighted. Consumers need to be educated in hygienic handling of food and the 'Five Keys to Safer Food' programme was presented as an example of food safety training aimed at the community level as well as small food producers, street food vendors etc. Farmers should be educated in the production of safe food, in particular through the application of good agricultural practices, including integrated pest management. Good manufacturing practices and the observance of hygienic principles in food production were seen as essential in the prevention of food-borne diseases. In several countries, governmental support for HACCP implementation has yielded positive results. However, small scale producers have particular difficulties in applying HACCP principles, which has prompted FAO and WHO to develop a guidance document on this subject.

Working together:

Linking food safety regulators together in real time: The Forum witnessed the inauguration of a new network of food safety authorities (INFOSAN), managed by WHO in cooperation with FAO and aimed at enabling real-time interaction and sharing of information and experiences on food safety. The network will include an emergency arm to be activated in case of major food-borne disease or food contamination incidents. An inter-continental panel discussion amongst senior food safety regulators via video-conference demonstrated to the Forum how food safety authorities from different parts of the world can discuss important food safety issues in real time through the network. It was concluded that both the general exchange of new information through the network and the ability to deal with international food safety incidents (including intentional contamination) can contribute to improving food safety globally. The INFOSAN system is linked to the existing WHO International Health Regulations and global alert and response system.

Providing information on national food safety regulation: The Forum observed a live demonstration of the new FAO International Portal on Food Safety, Animal and Plant Health. This portal, developed jointly with OIE, UNEP, WHO and WTO, will enable users to easily access official SPS related information. It will also provide a vehicle for countries to share notifications on food safety measures and access international standards and risk assessment information.

Reaping the benefits of Codex: The Forum noted that the Codex system provides an important opportunity for countries to work together to develop international standards in a representative manner. The Forum recognized the value of greater participation in the Codex process, supported also by the FAO/WHO Trust Fund for participation in Codex, with the overall aim of developing truly global standards and harmonizing national standards with Codex. The recently established Codex Trust Fund will facilitate the participation of developing countries in Codex activities. It was also suggested that developing countries would benefit from greater use of basic Codex texts when building their food control systems.

Issues that need action

Capacity building for food safety systems in developing countries: Compliance with food import requirements of developed countries and meeting the food safety needs of domestic consumers can place heavy constraints on food safety systems in developing countries. It was pointed out that while the WTO Agreement allows for recognition of equivalence, many developing countries are having difficulty proving that their food safety systems are indeed equivalent to those of their trading partners. It was noted that WTO has recently issued a document that provides guidance in the establishment of equivalency. It was agreed that because of the importance of food safety and food trade, food safety systems in developing countries should be supported through technical assistance, capacity building and partnerships, as specified in the provisions of the SPS Agreement.

Intensified work in support of national action to combat microbiological disease from food: The Forum noted the need for FAO and WHO to focus increased efforts on managing food safety risks from microbiological contamination. It called upon Codex to speed up its work on the development of guiding documents enabling Member countries to address more efficiently the microbiological contamination of food. Such contamination most likely presently constitutes the largest portion of the significant global disease burden from food, notably leading to a high mortality rate in developing countries and causing the rejection of contaminated food exports. Risk assessments of chemical contaminants also should continue under the existing FAO/WHO expert committees which provide scientific advice to Codex and member countries.

Genetically Modified (GM)Food: The Forum stressed the importance of clear communication of issues related to foods derived from modern biotechnology and recognition of consumers concern. However, it also acknowledged the existence of internationally agreed Codex principles and guidelines for the assessment of food safety risk related to GM foods. The Forum discussed that a case-by-case, step-by-step pre-market evaluation of each new GM food is necessary. Developing countries often do not have sufficient resources for in-depth evaluations and urged GM developers and relevant national authorities to share such evaluations freely.

Reliable food import/export certification programmes: The importance of a reliable food export certification programme was illustrated. Export certification programmes have resulted in decreased importation control, minimization of import rejection, reduction of cost and improvement of the image of goods from that country. The discussion of food importation programmes focused on how these systems attempt to ensure that food is safe before going into the national marketplace.

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