SECOND FAO/WHO GLOBAL FORUM OF FOOD
Honoured guests and Forum participants,
Ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, I extend to all of you a warm welcome to this Second FAO/WHO Global Forum of Food Safety Regulators.
Ms Leitner has already indicated the magnitude of the health burden resulting from unsafe food that is still affecting millions of people in the world. We are here because countries recognize that they not only need to exchange experiences in the face of the growing human economic and social costs of unsafe food, but also take action and improve collaboration. We thank the government of the Kingdom of Thailand for their kind hospitality in hosting this event.
I will briefly address three main topics.
1. Adoption of internationally agreed food safety standards
The first is that we need to make progress toward the adoption of the existing international standards, i.e. Codex.
We are all aware that it is becoming increasingly difficult for countries to cope with the growing number and complexity of the internationally- accepted Codex standards and regulations. In 1970, there were approximately 15 Codex standards relating to food safety and approximately 200 Maximum Limits for pesticide residues, veterinary drugs, food additives and contaminants. Today, almost 300 standards and almost 4000 limits on various substances are in place. Nevertheless, the adoption of these standards is our common aim, and therefore a major contribution of this Forum would be if we can identify effective food safety systems that minimize compliance costs throughout the food chain, while ensuring that the food people eat is safe.
We observe that some countries or trading groups have stricter standards than Codex. This is of course fully covered by the SPS Agreement, as long as it is scientifically justified. However, it is obvious that stricter standards further increase the compliance costs for poor countries, which makes capacity building towards effective food control systems even more urgent. This leads to the second topic that I would like to address, capacity building.
2. Capacity Building
Based on the results of an FAO questionnaire administered mostly to persons from developing countries, we now have a better understanding of the specific demand for capacity building. To meet the demands, FAO has been involved in four main types of actions, along with others.
1) Access to official regulatory information. FAO launched the International Portal on Food Safety, Animal and Plant Health in May 2004. The portal will be demonstrated at 12:30 today, immediately after the close of the first session. We hope that it will be widely used by national governments, trading partners, and producers and count on inputs from governments and agencies to make the portal fully useful.
2) Improving national food safety systems and adherence to international standards. FAO has a large number of projects, at national and regional levels, covering all aspects of food safety systems, from food law to laboratory testing and inspection. Although donors are generously supporting this programme, still the demand exceeds our capacity to deliver. We are hopeful that our collaboration with OIE, the World Bank, WHO, and WTO in the Standards and Trade Development Facility will give further impetus to these efforts. We trust that this Second Global Forum will provide us more guidance in focusing our interventions on the needs and priorities of member countries.
3) Strengthening of regional cooperation. As you know, FAO and WHO have already convened Regional Conferences on Food Safety, one for Europe and one for Asia and the Pacific. I am pleased to confirm that preparations are underway to do the same for the remaining regions.
4) Provision of tools and guidelines. FAO, often jointly with WHO, has published a number of valuable manuals and guidelines related to effective food safety systems. For example, the FAO/WHO Guidelines for Strengthening National Food Control Systems were published in 2003 and copies are available at the publications desk. A Manual on Food Safety Risk Analysis, a training package on Improving Participation in the Work of Codex and a Food Safety Capacity Building Needs Assessment tool will also all be demonstrated in side events during the Forum and will be available in printed format in the upcoming months. These tools will prove to be invaluable resources for all FAO/WHO member countries in the future.
3. Food chain approach
Finally, I would like to state that, in FAO's view, countries need to address food safety problems within a holistic food chain approach. As was also underlined at the regional conferences and is evidenced by experience in various countries, it is only through a food chain approach that safe and high quality food can be ensured in a cost effective manner.
I suggest that the food chain approach, as such, is no longer in question. Rather we see this Forum as an occasion to determine the ways and means to best apply it. There are many critical issues to be resolved on the road towards improving food safety: I only mention such issues as: how to handle zero tolerance levels; how to accelerate cost reducing mutual recognition of food safety systems amongst trading partners; and how to make traceability affordable.
The topics you will address during the next few days are of major importance to ensure food safety for the benefit of human health and development of food trade. I want to thank you in advance for your efforts in addressing them and am convinced that this Forum will produce real progress towards ensuring that everyone in the world has access to safe food.
I thank you for your attention.