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Press Release 98/21


Brussels, 25 March -- The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) considers a ban on fish exports from East African countries affected by cholera "not the most appropriate response," the organization said in a statement released today, asking instead for improvements in good hygiene, safe water supply, fish processing and storage.

"Epidemiological data suggest that the risk of transmission of cholera from contaminated imported fish is negligible. Only rare and sporadic cases of cholera have occurred in developed countries as a result of eating fish transported across international borders by individuals," FAO said.

The World Health Organization has not documented a significant outbreak of cholera resulting from commercially imported food, according to FAO. The UN Agency noted that the Cholera bacteria does not survive proper cooking or drying, and cooked, dried or canned products are considered safe with regard to cholera transmission.

"Introducing import restrictions on fish products from affected countries will not prevent the transmission of cholera but will disturb international trade and may encourage illegal trade, posing a potentially higher threat to consumers," FAO added.

The European Union (EU) imposed a ban on fresh fish imports from several African states in late December and will review it by the end of June. It currently affects Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Mozambique. The ban, which followed a cholera epidemic sweeping much of East Africa in recent months, did not affect frozen fish. Frozen fish can be sold if shipments are free of Cholera and Salmonella bacteria, both of which can cause illness. At present the EU requires frozen fish products from East Africa to be checked at ports of entry to control possible microbial contamination. FAO pointed out that microbiological testing of end products has serious limitations as a control option.

The best way to ensure food safety and quality and freedom from pathogenic micro- organisms is by applying internationally recommended preventive measures and good hygiene and manufacturing practices, FAO said, recommending better control of the safety of water supply to fish processing factories of exporting countries and better monitoring of health conditions and the hygiene practices of personnel handling and processing fish products.

FAO called on fish-exporting countries to upgrade their landing, processing and storage facilities and said donor countries and international organisations should increase their assistance in achieving this goal. FAO for many years has assisted developing countries in adopting effective food quality and safety programmes. A Technical Co-operation Project is being prepared by FAO to assist these four countries to deal with food safety problems associated with the Cholera outbreaks.

The exports of Kenya, Mozambique, Uganda and Tanzania to the EU amounted to around 55,000 tonnes in 1996 worth $230 million. The EU is their most important market for these products.




For further information please contact E. Northoff, 39 6 5705 3105
E-mail [email protected]




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