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G8 could open door of opportunity for food safety

By Sarah Hills , 07-Mar-2014

World Health Organisation’s director of the department of Food Safety and Zoonoses, Dr Kazuaki Miyagishima, is helping to put food safety on the G8 agenda with a rapid alert system topping the list.

The importance of rapid food safety information exchange was met with nodding approval by G8 representatives, according to Dr Miyagishima, who participated in one of the G8 preparatory discussions hosted by the Russian Federation a few weeks ago.

But it has been a long time coming as food safety was last on the G8 agenda more than ten years ago, according to Dr Miyagishima.

Then the impact of mad cow disease, along with the issue of GMO among others, was vivid and there was “high public attention”.

And yet since then, Dr Miyagishima told FoodNavigator that the world had not become safer in this regard, with many big events such as the melamine scandal. Melamine was illegally added to Chinese infant formula in 2008, resulting in six children dying and 50,000 hospitalised.

These days the slightest fault or intentional misdeed of food producers in one country can easily impact a remote area within 24 hours.

This, according to Dr Miyagishima, is why “the most important part of the food safety agenda will be the quick information exchange or rapid alert.

“That was the part of food safety when I saw the G8 countries nodding.”

The globalisation of food production and trade has increased the potential likelihood of international incidents involving contaminated food.

The International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) connects food safety authorities around the world to swiftly exchange information and help prevent foodbourne outbreaks spreading.

The joint initiative between WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) includes 181 member states.

However more than two thirds of participating states are not distributing information, just receiving it, according to Dr Miyagishima, who said: “Most of these contact points are in listening mode. I don’t think they are proactive.”

He said they are now awaiting an invitation to the next round of G8 discussions to further put their case for food safety.

However he added: “We still don’t know if we will have the G8 summit at all.”

The G8 - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, the US (the G7) and the Russian Federation - meet each year to discuss global issues and this year the summit is in Russia.

However, earlier this week the G7 leaders and the EU decided to suspend their “participation in activities associated with the preparation of the scheduled G8 Summit in Sochi in June, until the environment comes back where the G8 is able to have meaningful discussion”.

This was in response to Russian military action in crisis-hit Ukraine following a popular uprising.

Nevertheless, if events in Ukraine do set back talks this year, Dr Miyagishima said: “If we miss that opportunity we will try next year.”

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