A group of international food safety experts and regional representatives met this week to lay the groundwork for an African food safety authority. The two-day workshop, hosted by the Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources Monday and Tuesday in Kigali, Rwanda, focused on how to carry out the African Union Commission’s (AUC) call for a pan-African food safety body. The new authority will set safety standards for and monitor the African food supply, much like the European Food Safety Authority does for EU member states. Participants in this week’s conference included health officials from Codex — an international food safety standard-setting body — and from African Union member states, along with regional representatives and point people from the African Union Commission (AUC). The goals of the workshop, according to the Bureau for Animal Resources, were to:

– Reaffirm the need, the objectives, the structure and the functionality of a Food Safety Authority within AUC;

– Reaffirm the need to establish in Africa a RASFF and its functionality; and

– Set priorities on information to collect, and modalities of dissemination and sharing of such information; agree on a road map for implementing the conclusions and recommendations.

“In other parts of the world, such as European Union, there exists the “European Food Safety Authority and a Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed” (RASFF),” said Francois Kanimba, AU’s Minister of Trade and Industry, in a speech that marked the opening of the conference. “Our body could be along similar lines but taking into consideration the several food safety, cultural, social, economical, political and even scientific peculiarities of our continent,” he remarked, as reported by All Africa. With increased standardization of the African food safety system will come an increased trade capacity, noted Kaniba, since products will not be rejected as often on the grounds of being unsafe. “Any initiative, be it at the AU or individual member state level, aiming to improve food safety by particularly complying with international food standards, will not only reduce food losses and increase food availability in the continent, but also promote exports from our countries by taking advantage of international trade opportunities, thereby increasing incomes, prosperity and wellbeing of our citizens,” said Kinamba in his remarks. The conference also aimed to establish a Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), a forum through which food and feed authorities could share information about companies whose products are deemed a risk to public health. The European Union established an RASFF in 2002. The African Union is made up of 53 countries and includes all sovereign African nations with the exception of Morocco. Madagascar and Guinea-Bassau were suspended from the AU following internal political upheaval.