Food safety is once more in the limelight this week with the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on Monday advocating a new approach to ensure that the food we eat is free from food-borne hazards.
The system, the 'Food Chain Approach', currently being discussed at a week-long high-level Committee on Agriculture meeting (31 March - 4 April 2003), urges prevention as well as cure.
For the FAO, the key to tackling the issue is to strengthen each and every link in the complex process of food reaching the consumer - from the way it is grown or raised, to how it is collected, processed, packaged, sold and consumed.
"We need to strengthen every single part of the food chain. One weak link, especially near the beginning, can make the whole food chain collapse," said FAO assistant Director-General, Hartwig de Haen.
"There are already good standards of safety and hygiene in the meat and dairy processing industries," added Hartwig de Haen, "but we need to give more consideration to hygiene on the farm and the health of the animal, including what it is fed and how it is managed, to avoid contamination of animal products and risks to human health from diseases that can be transmitted to humans."
Sharing the responsibility for providing safe food among all players in the food and agriculture sector - from food producers and processors to retailers and households - is mirrored by an approach in which developed countries offer developing ones the resources and experience to build their capacity to ensure their food chains are safe, touts the FAO.
According to figures from the FAO, in developing countries almost 2 million children die each year from diarrhoea, caused mainly by microbe-contaminated food and water.
To tackle issues such as these the FAO's approach includes the adoption of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) which establish basic principles for farming, including soil and water management, crop and animal production, storage, processing and waste disposal.
For the UN body, the aim of the food chain approach, which incorporates these improved farming practices, is to ensure that the food chain becomes more transparent so national and global foodcrises can be prevented rather than treated.
Whether this is a new approach is arguable. The European Union, under the black cloud of food safety fears, is constantly working to improve food safety and to heighten transparency. But this is not the point. The FAO has raised the important issue that food safety is not simply a problem to be addressed by nations independently, but collectively, across the globe. That 2 million children die each year from diarrhoea, caused mainly by microbe-contaminated food and water, is unforgivable in the 21st century.