dispatches from RAFA 2015, Prague

FAO and IAEA set out food safety challenges for developing countries

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

IAEA talks food safety work with FoodQualityNews

Related tags Member states Developed country International atomic energy agency

A workshop on food safety for developing countries including capacity building guidance has been held by the FAO and IAEA at the RAFA symposium in Prague.

The session focussed on challenges facing developing country analytical laboratories in controlling chemical contaminants in food, traceability and authenticity.

The Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture event was organised by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Andrew Cannavan, head of the Food and Environmental Protection Laboratory of the UN’ Joint FAO/IAEA Programme on Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, spoke to FQN after the event.

Discuss and build awareness

Cannavan told us it has a lot of demand for information, training and types of workshops and one way it satisfies this is using regular budget funding or trying to get extra budgetary funding.

Andrew Cannavan

The workshop at RAFA was run through an extra budgetary funding source it got a few years ago that was coming to an end.

The idea of the workshop was to discuss and build awareness of the problems that developing countries face with food safety and to get them to talk to each other and to get people in the developed world to realise what the problems are so that they can help each other,” ​he said.

“The basic challenges are always the same but in the developed world they are often more pronounced because they don’t have the infrastructure in many cases, the physical infrastructure and the regulatory infrastructure, and even the legislative infrastructure to put in place the food safety regulations and implement and police them.”

Cannavan said one of the ways it works with developing country counterparts is by creating laboratory capacity.

“If we can build a capacity there and they can analyse samples taken from their own produce then it gives good feedback to the producers on whether the agricultural procedures they are using are effective for example in controlling levels of pesticide residues that are left in food after production,” ​he said.

“One of the things that has become more important in recent years is food traceability and food authenticity.

“Is it necessary for us to work in collaboration with other laboratories and we are partners in some European projects, that whole aspect of networking is very necessary to get the impact you need and we also like where possible to work with industry.”

Presenters at the over-subscribed workshop included Ihsan Ihsanullah, Nuclear Institute for Food & Agriculture (NIFA), Pakistan, Gajendra Kumar Paudyal, Department of Food Technology and Control, Nepal, Alphonse Yakoro, National Public Health Laboratory, Burkina Faso and Veronica Cesia, UdelaR, Uruguay.

Going nuclear to fight food fraud

The increasing use of nuclear techniques to make food safer and to fight fraud was part of an international symposium held in November 2014 at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna.


By determining the ratio of stable isotopes, such as hydrogen, oxygen and carbon, in various foods, scientists can establish where a food product comes from and what it contains.

Cannavan said the agency works in nuclear applications with a department of nuclear sciences and part of that is the division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture – a joint division with FAO.

It has several sub-programmes and one is on food and environmental protection, to help Member States of FAO/IAEA develop and implement food control systems for safety and quality.

“We help in a number of ways, we have a laboratory in Seibersdorf in Austria. At that laboratory we do a little upstream applied research for method development and method adaptation and method transfer to member states through training of Member States scientists,”​ said Cannavan.  

“We transfer those through a mechanism called Technical Cooperation Projects so we help to build capacity in Member States laboratories and we help to link the laboratories to the food supply chain in those Member States to make the whole thing sustainable.   

“We have another mechanism called Coordinated Research Project mechanism and this usually involves 15 different countries, four or five of which may be developed countries who provide expertise, and 10 or 11 which are developing countries and they all work along a theme.

“We have one on the development of traceability and authenticity methods for dairy products. The idea there is they use isotopic methods and complementary methods such as metabolomics to support food traceability and authenticity systems. The idea is if we can do it for dairy products the same suite of techniques can be used for other commodities.”

Project work

Cannavan said projects have a defined lifetime but there could be follow up efforts.

“Unfortunately we don’t have the funding to keep things going for a long time but there is always informal contact afterwards and one of the main ways we work is through laboratory network in regions or globally,” ​he said.

“One example is a network we helped set up called RALACA (Red Analitica de Latino America y el Caribe / Analytical Latin American and Caribbean Network) and that started about six years ago with six interested institutes in six countries, we now have 52 laboratories in 19 countries and it’s a self-sustaining network.”

Projects are demand driven and come through government channels from Member States.

Capacity building projects are proposed to the agency and a ranking is done based on priorities for a country’s needs for interaction with the agency.

Through consultations with Member States needs not being met are identified for the research projects and a research programme is developed to create methodologies or technologies to address the needs.

The idea is after the research project there will be some methodology that can then be transferred to the capacity building projects.  

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