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UN-backed meeting urges steps to fight deadly contaminated food in Near East

UN-backed meeting urges steps to fight deadly contaminated food in Near East

With nearly 260,000 people dying in the Near East every year from food and water-borne diarrhoea, safety regulators and experts from some 20 countries and international organizations at a United Nations-sponsored conference have called for increased surveillance and better data to improve food safety throughout the region.

Regulators at the first-ever Near East Regional Food Safety Meeting, sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), agreed that the total number of illnesses caused by contaminated and unsafe food was much higher and also had an economic cost in limiting exports.

“Ensuring safe food is above all critical for consumers everywhere and in addition it is also extremely important for exports and imports in the Near East,” the Assistant Director-General in FAO’s Economic and Social Department, Hartwig de Haen, told the meeting ending last night in Amman, Jordan.

“In much of the region, food-borne diseases are seen as an unpleasant fact of life and incidents often go unreported. As a result, data on food-borne illnesses are incomplete. Regional cooperation and better data are needed to evaluate the severity of food safety problems in order to develop effective remedies for those problems,” he added.

The regulators discussed the difficulties they face trying to make food products comply with food safety standards. Non-compliance with standards set by some trading partners, such as maximum levels of aflatoxins in dried fruits and nuts, have effectively prevented many Near East countries from exporting these commodities.

The countries called on trading partners to harmonize standards, in particular for these products, with the standards set by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the UN body that sets food safety, quality and trade standards.

The regulators said they recognized that compliance with standards begins on the farm and agreed to work more closely with producers and processors to increase investments in quality and safety of foods sold domestically and internationally.

The meeting brought together 100 food safety experts, including representatives from the Palestinian Authority, Iraq and Libya.