Source: The Nation Multimedia - Thailand

Asian farmers and consumers of their products in countries around the world stand to benefit from discussions at the FAO Regional Food Safety Consultation Workshop that opened in Bangkok yesterday.

More than 45 people working in the field food safety from 13 Asian countries are attending the consultation representing a range of governmental and non-governmental groups. Food safety is a multidisciplinary subject and has to be addressed while taking into account the roles of multiple agencies and stakeholders, the Food and Agriculture Organisation notes.

Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO assistant director-general and regional representative for Asia and the Pacific, opened the consultation, saying: "Although governments in the region have been working to address food safety in their countries, the challenges are many.

"One of the major issues is the lack of clarity of the role of multiple agencies and coordination mechanisms due to the multidisciplinary nature of food safety, which needs involvement of not only a large number of departments to oversee and coordinate food-safety aspects, but also involvement of multiple stakeholders - the producers, processors, handlers, retailers, consumers - that have a role in ensuring that there is no neglect in any portion of the food chain for ensuring safe food."

Another important challenge is the lack of appropriate indicators on food safety as well as reliable data on these, as a result of which the food-safety status of countries is not easily measurable and the impact of food safety is not readily felt during normal times. Food-safety resources are not always appropriate to the situation. There have been instances in countries where state-of-the-art laboratories have been established, but funding for testing has not been suitably allocated.

"It is imperative that countries clearly identify their policies, including priorities and goals in relation to food safety, and work towards addressing these in a comprehensive and coordinated manner with involvement of relevant stakeholders," Konuma said.

The FAO, a United Nations agency, is currently supporting about 15-20 projects in various countries of the Asia-Pacific region on food safety, covering capacity strengthening of many aspects of food safety and quality policies.

Shashi Sareen, FAO senior food-safety and nutrition officer, said the consultation workshop was important because it brings together senior-level government officials representing ministries |of health, agriculture, commerce, trade and industries, as well |as representatives from trade |bodies".

The FAO organised the three-day consultation in collaboration with the Public Health Ministry's Bureau of Food Safety Extension and Support to consider how food-safety approaches in the organisation's 44 Asia-Pacific member countries can be strengthened.