Codex role in global food safety rules underlined

Related tags Food safety Food Codex alimentarius

Underlying the destructive power of foodborne disease against the
backdrop of the increasingly complex food industry, the head of a
food safety centre warns the rise in demand for food carries an
"invisible price tag".

When production of food goes up on a mass scale, a food system becomes more vulnerable, with even the smallest problem magnifying and translating into a large scale dilemma.

"When we look at the question of feeding the world [estimates place the figure at over 850 million people], we also have to take into account providing safe food,"​ says Ewen Todd, director of the National Food Safety & Toxicology Center at Michigan State University.

Speaking this week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in the US, Todd highlights that one of the biggest food safety challenges facing the €3.2 trillion global food industry is the microbial contamination of food in and from countries that face problems of hunger.

"We need new approaches to food control, particularly centralised food safety policies that each country understands and increased surveillance to track the source of the problems,"​ comments Todd.

"The goal of fighting hunger and foodborne disease is achievable, but it will take planning and vision,"​ he adds.

For Todd, the UN-backed Codex Alimentarius Commission - oft criticised for moving too slowly - is the best way to reach some form of standardised food safety system: "Through its international emphasis on encouraging fair international trade in food while promoting the health and economic interest of consumers."

One of the dilemmas facing food production is the increasing demand for stricter standards, which make it more difficult for developing countries to produce food for export.

Food safety has become critical in international trade discussions following the establishment of the SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) agreement in 1995, says Todd.

Since then, regulations in developed countries have become increasingly comprehensive and stringent, but "in some cases restricting trade or significantly increasing the costs of food exports from many developing countries,"​ the US scientist adds.

Worldwide, approximately 1.5 billion episodes of diarrhea occur annually in children under the age of five, resulting in some 1.8 million deaths. According to estimates, up to 70 per cent of these episodes may be caused by foodborne contaminants.

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