The World Health Organisation met in Beijing this week to discuss key threats to the safety of the world's food supply chain, including a number of issues specific to the Asian Pacific region.
With a burgeoning global food production industry working in a climate that produced some $4 trillion (€3.27 US trillion) of 'high-value' food products in 2000, the pressure to support food safety systems is intensifying.
All around the world issues such as terrorist attacks on food supply chains and disease are growing in parallel with the volume of food production. According to WHO, one of the key issues in Asia is the emergence of zoonoses - diseases transmitted to humans from animals - and the ongoing health and economic consequences of food contamination and foodborne illnesses.
"Without a comprehensive and integrated approach along the food chain, food will be left unprotected and human health will be placed at risk," Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO regional director for the western Pacific told a WHO meeting this week in Shanghai, China.
"Rapid globalisation of food production and trade has increased the potential for international incidents involving food contamination with microbial or chemical hazards,"
While developed countries account for most of the high-value food products - value is added at various stages along the food chain - moving through global retail outlets, US department of Agriculture believes that market growth has generally been faster among developing countries, where oils and fats, dried food and dairy products have sizable retail markets with strong growth trends. Such growth means a clear focus on food safety, as well as a growing awareness, is essential.
"Rapid globalisation of food production and trade has increased the potential for international incidents involving food contamination with microbial or chemical hazards," added Dr Omi.
Current fears of terrorist intervention in the food chain have also compounded the need for effective risk analysis and risk management.
"If the risk of both foodborne disease and zoonoses are to be reduced, there needs to be close collaboration between health ministries and those responsible for agriculture and trade as well as comprehensive and integrated approach to food safety, with the producers, processors, traders and consumers all playing a role," said Dr. Omi.
At the WHO meeting with over a hundred Representatives, including several health ministers, the United Nations body said it will give greater emphasis to food safety at the regional level and 'build effective partnerships to better protect human health'. Details of a possible strategy were not reported.