Global perspective Human stories

UN agencies urge international cooperation to address food safety issues

UN agencies urge international cooperation to address food safety issues

Two United Nations agencies today called on governments around the world to implement international food safety and quality standards in order to protect trade and health while restoring consumer confidence.

"As the movement of people, trade of foods - including ingredients and food animal feeding stuffs - becomes more and more global, it turns out to be more and more difficult to solve food safety problems by one country without international collaboration and a consolidated strategy to combat problems," said the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, in her opening speech to the Codex Alimentarius Commission meeting in Geneva.

"In a globalized world, we all swim in a single microbial sea," Dr. Brundltand told the Commission, the highest international body on food quality and safety standards, which began its week-long meeting today. The 165-member Commission is a subsidiary body of WHO and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

FAO Assistant Director-General Hartwig de Haen said that public awareness of food safety issues had increased dramatically, especially in developed countries. "Concern over BSE ["mad cow"] disease, the dioxin crisis in 1999, numerous outbreaks of food-borne illnesses due to microbiological contamination of foods, and the appearance in human food of a genetically modified maize approved only for animal feeding has strongly influenced public opinion," Mr de Haen said.

"People have a right to food which is nutritious and safe," he stressed, adding that agricultural producers and food processors share the responsibility for ensuring safe and nutritious food.

Both WHO and FAO noted that in many developing countries, there is often no comprehensive food safety system in place. The agencies emphasized the urgent need for countries around the world to upgrade their domestic food safety systems.

The agencies are taking steps towards this goal. FAO is currently initiating a Global Facility on Food Safety and Quality for Least Developed Countries, which aims to help those States to strengthen their food regulatory systems, their competitiveness in international food trade, and their preparedness for the participation in Codex.

WHO is building its contributions to food safety with particular emphasis on risk assessment while supporting health action within Codex in ways that best serve Member States and their people, particularly in developing countries.