UN meeting on global fish trade recommends action to boost consumer safety

17 February 2004

In a bid to boost consumer safety, a recent United Nations meeting on the fishing trade has called for the establishment of cost-effective and global standards to trace a fish’s progress through trade networks from capture to consumption.

Questions of food safety and better ways to protect the health of fish consumers in today’s global marketplace topped the agenda of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Sub-Committee on Fish Trade meeting held last week in Bremen, Germany.

Many countries expressed concern over safety issues affecting the international fish trade and consumer perceptions of fish safety, including dioxins and PCBs in salmon and antibiotic residues in farmed fish.

FAO was charged by the Sub-Committee with closely monitoring developments and emerging science related to these issues and to report back to its members so that measures aimed at protecting consumers are grounded in the best available information and don’t unfairly restrict trade,” said Lahsen Ababouch, Chief of FAO’s Fish Utilization and Marketing Service.

Figuring prominently in the debate on safety was the emerging science of traceability – creating systems that track a fish’s progress from the ocean to the plate.

“The idea is to have a trustworthy record of how and where fish were farmed or caught, what processing it underwent, and how it was transported and stored, so that consumers know exactly what they are eating,” Mr. Ababouch explained.

Participants agreed that consumer safety is a top priority, but also called for the establishment of feasible, cost-effective, and internationally agreed-upon traceability standards and methodologies.

Developing countries – which own about half of the fish trade market share – voiced concern over the costs of implementing such systems, and stressed the need for technical and capacity-building support.

The Sub-Committee, which established in 1985, is an advisory body made up of FAO member States meeting every two years to share information, take up policy issues related to fish trade, and make recommendations regarding the agency’s work on fisheries.

 

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