Food Safety Officials Push Global Guidelines

CSPI Says Mad Cow, Avian Flu, Bioterrorism Concerns Require Global Coordination


Bioterrorism, mad cow disease, and other more common food safety hazards know no borders and require stronger food safety systems all over the world, according to a group of food safety officials and consumer advocates from 25 countries who met in Geneva last month. The first-of-its-kind conference was organized by the U.S.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, and hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO). Contaminated food kills millions of people worldwide each year—a death toll that could be reduced by promoting strong national food laws, disease surveillance programs, food recall and tracking systems, and other steps outlined in the document agreed to by the conferees.

“A global campaign to improve food safety is needed if we are going to make food safer for consumers in both developed and developing countries,” said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. “The fragmented or non-existent food safety programs in most countries are no match for today’s hazards. As food and food animals move rapidly across the globe, so do hazards in the food supply. BSE, avian flu and bioterrorism are only our latest examples.”

In 2003, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) started the Safe Food International project in partnership with the WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and consumer organizations all over the world to promote stronger national food safety programs, to reduce food-related deaths and illness, and to deter the use of food as a target of intentional contamination.

The Safe Food International Guidelines are intended to assist both consumer organizations and governments in determining the minimum requirements for national food safety programs and cover eight essential elements for an effective food safety program.

The document says that countries should have a disease surveillance system that “identifies foodborne-illness outbreaks while there is still time to remove the contaminated food from the market and prevent illnesses.” CSPI says such systems would be essential to helping countries respond to a bioterrorist attack via the food supply. To address concerns about mad cow and other animal diseases, the guidelines urge countries to utilize animal identification systems using ear tags and other devices and to ensure that feed for cows and other ruminants does not contain any ruminant tissue.

To manage all food safety hazards, the Guidelines state that national food safety programs “must be funded sufficiently to conduct regular inspections of food-processing facilities and imports, conduct laboratory tests of both domestic and imported food, set standards, and do risk analysis.”

With cosponsorship from the WHO and the FAO, Safe Food International developed these guidelines in consultation with the following consumer organizations: 

Union for the Protection of Consumer Rights (Armenia) 
Test-Achats (Belgium)
Ligue pour la Défense du Consommateur (Benin) 
ProTeste (Brazil)
Federation of Consumers in Bulgaria 
Mouvement National des Consommateurs (Cameroon) 
Ontario Society for Nutrition Professionals (Canada)
Union des Consommateurs (Canada)
Organización de Consumidores y Usuarios (Chile)
Pesticide Eco-Alternatives Center (China) 
EcoWomen (China)
China Consumers’ Association
Estonian Consumers Association
Federation of Consumer Organizations (India)
Consumer Coordination Council (India)
Voluntary Organization in the Interest of Consumer Education (India)
Consumers Korea (Republic of Korea)
Consumers Lebanon 
Consumers Association of Penang (Malaysia)
Pro Public (Nepal)
Consumers’ Institute (New Zealand)
Asociación Peruana de Consumidores y Usuarios (Peru)
Polish Consumer Association
Association Senegalaise pour la Defense de l'Environnement et des Consommateurs (Senegal)
National Consumer Forum (Seychelles)
Consumers Union (United States)
Consumer Education Trust (Uganda) 
WHICH (United Kingdom)
Consumidores y Usuarios Asociados (Uruguay)
International Association of Consumer Food Organizations
Consumers International

“While the main responsibility for ensuring safer food lies with producers and national governments, consumers must become more active in assuring the safety of food by assuming their own particular responsibilities,” said Jorgen Schlundt, executive director of the WHO’s food safety department. “In the home, consumers must observe safe food-handling practices that help avoid foodborne diseases. In food markets as well as eating establishments, consumers must be careful in selecting food for quality and safety. Finally, consumers must become knowledgeable about food safety issues and push for political support for government programs that foster food safety from production to consumption.”

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