x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Experts meet in Abu Dhabi to seek to make food safer worldwide

More than 200 government officials and experts gather at the first worldwide meeting of the International Food Safety Authorities Network.

ABU DHABI // Food safety experts from around the globe met yesterday to discuss ways of boosting communication when food-borne illnesses cross borders.

The more than 200 government officials and experts gathered at the first worldwide meeting of the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN), a joint initiative of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Dr Rashid Ahmed bin Fahad, the Minister of Environment and Water, aid: "In a globalised world, no country exists in isolation."

Dr Fahad said he hopes the meeting will establish a "clearer vision and united plan of action for a safer and more secure future for food".

During the meeting, INFOSAN will consolidate the food safety initiatives of several countries, seeking to improve information sharing about food hazards and risks.

Previously, INFOSAN conducted most interactions through email or telephone. The meeting is an opportunity for the UAE to build relationships with other member countries, according to Mohamed al Reyaysa, the communications director for the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, which is hosting the event at the Beach Rotana hotel in Abu Dhabi.

A stronger relationship between the Government and exporting countries will offer consumers more protection from food-borne illnesses and better information about recalls, Mr al Reyaysa said.

"When we have good relations with other countries' authorities," he said. "it will advance our process."

Little is known about the full extent and global cost of unsafe food. INFOSAN, which has 177 member countries, aims to help less-developed countries bolster communication practices in food safety.

Around the world, food-borne illnesses are spreading faster, and conventional control measures are less effective, according to a 2007 WHO report.

In 1991, a cholera outbreak was believed to have been caused by contaminated seafood harvested off the coast of Peru. The illness rapidly spread across Latin America, resulting in about 400,000 reported cases, and more than 4,000 deaths in several countries.

The keynote speaker, Dr Alan Reilly, the chief executive of the Food Safety Authority in Ireland, said: "The global nature and growing complexity of the food chain means that risks posed by unsafe foods have the potential to quickly evolve from a local problem to an international incident in a short period of time."

The UAE imports 90 per cent of its food, making its stock particularly vulnerable to recalls.

All of the international recall alerts that the Abu Dhabi food authority receives come from INFOSAN, according to Mr al Reyaysa.

"It's a very important source of information that we have," he said.

The conference ends tomorrow.

mdetrie@thenational.ae