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UN health agency issues guidance to minimize terror threats to food

UN health agency issues guidance to minimize terror threats to food

The United Nations health agency today released guidance to help national governments establish mechanisms to minimize potential terrorist threats against food supplies.

The document published by the World Health Organization (WHO) concentrates on working with national governments to integrate terrorism prevention and response measures into existing national food safety programmes, because both unintentional and deliberate outbreaks of food-borne disease can be managed by the same mechanisms.

Food-borne agents are estimated to cause 1.5 million deaths worldwide from diarrhoea-related conditions alone, according to WHO. While only a few cases of intentional contamination have been proven, the agency believes the risk of such terrorist threats should be given serious consideration by public authorities and the food industry.

Many developed and most developing countries are not yet adequately prepared to deal with large-scale food safety emergencies, WHO says. Its recommendations, titled "Terrorist Threats to Food: Guidance for Establishing and Strengthening Prevention and Response Systems," emphasize the need to strengthen existing emergency alert and response systems by improving links with all relevant agencies and with the food industry.

Food industry involvement is encouraged from the outset, as the industry possesses the primary means to minimize contamination by putting in place appropriate security measures to protect production and distribution systems. The document provides specific measures for consideration by the food industry.

The guidance document was prepared in collaboration with the WHO European Centre for Environment and Health. Experts from national agencies in Australia, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Russia, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States, the European Commission, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Industry Council for Development contributed to its development.