Manila, 14 October 2011—The Member States of the World Health Organization's Western Pacific Region have adopted a far-reaching strategy to ensure the safety of the food we put on our tables.
The rapid and extensive globalization of food production and trade has increased the potential for international incidents involving food contamination.
The Western Pacific Regional Food Safety Strategy (2011-2015) defines key actions required to improve food control systems covering the entire food chain from farm to table. It also aims to strengthen collaboration among countries and regional partners towards increased health security through improved food safety systems.
The Strategy provides countries with a structure to:
- improve food control and coordination throughout the food chain;
- devise a risk-based regulatory framework;
- improve availability of food safety data to better guide policy and risk analysis;
- develop inspection services;
- introduce food safety training and education; and
- establish the capacity to detect, assess and manage food safety incidents and emergencies.
"Unsafe food causes many acute and lifelong diseases, ranging from diarrhoeal disease to various forms of cancer, with more than 200 diseases being spread through food," warned
Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.
The Committee, WHO's governing body in the Region, was in Manila for its annual meeting on 10–13.
In New Zealand, six foodborne diseases in 2009 cost the country more than NZ$ 161 million—proof that the economic impact of foodborne disease and food contamination is also significant.
Melamine contamination in China in 2008 demonstrated the impact of increasing international trade in food with 47 countries receiving melamine-contaminated products. Melamine, a product used to make plastics, was added to infant formula and dairy products to increase its apparent protein content.
Consumption of melamine-contaminated products—which can cause kidney stones and kidney failure—resulted in the death of six infants in China and the hospitalization of 52 000 infants and children for urinary tract problems.
In the Western Pacific Region, other food safety emergencies of international concern include Ebola Reston virus in pigs, excessively high levels of iodine in soy milk products, fish poisoning, hepatitis A associated with semi-dried tomatoes, pesticide-residue poisonings, chloropropanol contamination of soy sauce.
WHO stressed the need to move towards a longer-term, integrated and sustainable approach with regards to food safety rather than planning from year to year, which is the practice in some Member States.