The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has helped improve consumer health and boost the trade of food in South East Asia.

FAO ran a series of multi-year projects, funded by the government of Japan, aimed at capacity building to develop and implement international food safety standards in member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

ASEAN includes Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Within the region, capacity levels vary widely and food cultures are diverse, leading to various food safety issues. Street food figures prominently in consumer preferences. Harmonizing food safety measures with Codex Alimentarius standards can help minimize trade restrictions, officials say.

More than 14 training courses were held between 2016 and 2019 to strengthen capacity to contribute to the Codex standard-setting process and implement adopted standards. There was a need to focus on generating evidence on food safety hazards and their level of risk for consumers.

They covered topics such as inspection systems, food recalls and traceability, mycotoxin sampling tools, establishing maximum residues limits (MRLs), and Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures (SPS).

Results have contributed to improving consumer health, facilitating food trade and better collaboration between ASEAN and trading partners such as Japan.

Effective and harmonized food safety capacities support increased trade of food and agricultural products while ASEAN countries have also gained knowledge on issues such as risk analysis and risk categorization.

The example of ASEAN countries and Japan is given to show it is feasible to improve food safety and existing systems are in place to help.

Food safety event summarized
Meanwhile, in late November 2020, the FAO held the Regional Food Safety Conference for Asia and the Pacific. A total of 1,529 people registered and 977 participated.

In the Asia-Pacific region, about 275 million people fall ill and 225,000 die because of unsafe food each year.

Large global producers of commodities such as rice, pulses, oilseeds, millets, sugar, milk, fruits, vegetables, fish and eggs are in Asia Pacific.

Across Asia and the Pacific, news on food safety issues and incidents frequently hit the headlines. This has negative economic consequences as trade and tourism are adversely affected. Concern among consumers reflects a lack of confidence in the way food safety is enforced and practiced, according to a report on the event.

Diversity of countries in the region in organization of national food control systems is causing differences in the way food safety is managed and controlled. There is a heavy dependence of Pacific countries on imported food.

The conference discussed the state of food control systems in the region; analyzed the impact of topics such as technology and climate ;and debated existing food safety issues.

Four sessions looked at government roles in food safety; science-based evidence generation for risk-based prioritization; trade, standards, industry and small-scale farmers and managing misinformation, food safety communication, and education for the next generation of professionals.

Alan Reilly, an adjunct professor at University College Dublin in Ireland, discussed the challenges for national food control systems during COVID-19 and Lisa Szabo, CEO at the New South Wales Food Authority, presented on the bi-national system between Australia and New Zealand. Country perspectives were also given from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal and India.

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