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UN agriculture agency announces new initiatives to improve food safety

UN agriculture agency announces new initiatives to improve food safety

Following recent incidents that have caused turmoil in the world food markets and raised concern among consumers, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today announced a series of initiatives aimed at improving food safety and quality.

One FAO initiative is the convening of a Global Forum on Food Safety Regulators in October 2001, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO). "The main purpose of the Global Forum is to promote the exchange of information and experience on how to deal with food safety issues of potential importance to public health and international food trade," Hartwig de Haen, FAO Assistant Director-General, told the Committee on World Food Security which is currently meeting in Rome.

The Global Forum will discuss the reduction of food-borne diseases, the establishment of food-safety regulations and risk management procedures, ways of dealing with emerging food-borne illnesses, the creation of new inspection models, the implementation of the Codex Alimentarius standards, as well as the transboundary consequences of food safety emergencies, the agency said.

In the meantime, a joint technical consultation on BSE ("mad cow disease") will take place from 11 to 14 June in Paris to review the scientific information available and address outstanding questions related to this animal disease and its transmission to humans in the form of a variant of the Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease. The joint technical consultation, organized by WHO, FAO and the Office International des Epizooties, will focus on preventing a global spread of the disease and on protecting both human and livestock populations.

Another initiative launched by FAO and WHO is a Pan-European Conference on Food Safety and Quality to be held in Budapest from 18 to 21 February 2002. Its main objective is to promote the creation of a platform for mutual understanding of food safety and quality problems through institutional cooperation and exchange of information among European countries.

To help ensure food safety in developing countries, FAO recently proposed setting up a Food Safety and Quality Facility for the world's least developed countries (LDCs). The proposal was made at the third UN Conference on the LDCs, held in Brussels from 14 to 20 May. The Facility will include a $98 million trust fund. In addition to upgrading national food safety and quality systems, it would also assist poor countries to comply with the Codex Alimentarius standards and guidelines.