APEC supports U.S. initiative to boost food safety

by Josh Sosland
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LIMA, PERU — A plan to strengthen food safety and product safety standards was endorsed Nov. 23 at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO Summit in Lima. Support for the plan was included in a collective statement issued at the conclusion of the two-day gathering of regional leaders.

APEC described its actions as reaffirmation of a commitment to improve food and product safety standards and practices as a way to facilitate trade while protecting the health and safety of member populations.

"We endorsed the work of the APEC Food Safety Cooperation Forum’s Partnership Training Institute Network and called on Ministers to take additional steps to enhance food and product safety next year," the statement said.

The leaders also shared common concern about food security issues in the Asia-Pacific region with particular note about the "impact that volatile global food prices, combined with food shortages in some developing economies, are having on our achievements in reducing poverty and lifting real incomes over the last decade."

The group met against a backdrop of severe global economic uncertainty.

"The current global financial crisis is one of the most serious economic challenges we have ever faced," the group said, expressing support for fiscal stimulus provided by APEC member economies.

The food safety proposal emerged from an August meeting of the APEC Sub-Committee on Standards and Conformance (S.C.S.C.). At the earlier meeting, a Food Safety Cooperation Forum (F.S.C.F.) implementation plan was approved with the objectives of developing transparent information-sharing and communication networks that provide accurate and timely information to consumers and producers on food safety, working toward establishing domestic food safety regulatory systems within economies and enhancing skills and human resource capacities to enable the development of national food safety regulatory systems that are harmonized with international standards.

"The United States presented a concept paper on the APEC F.S.C.F. Partnership Training Institute Network (P.T.I.N.) to enlist leadership from the private sector and academia in fulfilling the tasks of the F.S.C.F.," the sub-committee said. "The S.C.S.C. agreed to seek Committee on Trade and Investment approval for inclusion of this initiative in its deliverables to the Senior Officials Meeting and to seek Ministers' identification of the P.T.I.N. as a major food safety deliverable for leaders' attention."

In an official statement, President Bush welcomed the latest APEC move on food safety as did the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Describing the P.T.I.N. as a "new and innovative initiative designed to unite public and private sector representatives as well as scientific experts," the G.M.A. offered details of how the program was aimed at improving food safety in the Asia Pacific region by "increasing regulatory capacity."

"This multi-year initiative will provide assistance to APEC member economies to improve regulator and manufacturer technical competence and understanding of food safety management, and thus will substantially improve food safety in the APEC community and beyond," the G.M.A. said.

Rather than a "bricks and mortar" approach toward food safety, P.T.I.N. will help coordinate food and safety training institutes across the region, the G.M.A. said. Training programs will be designed and implemented as will a core curriculum for food safety training.

"The APEC P.T.I.N. will foster a unified and consistent approach to food safety capacity building and management, one that aligns with international best practices," the G.M.A. said.

Robert E. Bracket, G.M.A. senior vice-president and chief science and regulatory affairs officer, described P.T.I.N. as "constructive and practical."

"The APEC P.T.I.N. is particularly welcome in light of the recent food safety incidents that have occurred in the region," Mr. Brackett said. "This initiative, in helping build regulatory capacity in food safety, will help government, industry and other key stakeholders work together to better assure the safety of the food supply chain in the Asia Pacific."

Addressing issues of food security, the APEC leaders expressed support for a number of initiatives, including the Comprehensive Framework for Action developed earlier this year by the United Nations. The group also endorsed an "ambitious and balanced conclusion" to the Doha negotiations of the World Trade Organization, asserting that an agreement would "deliver substantial improvements in market access and reduce market distorting measures in global agriculture trade."

More generally, the leaders directed APEC to increase technical cooperation and capacity building to foster agricultural growth. Objectives of the work include increased food production, improved agricultural education, enhanced natural resource management, the promotion of next-generation biofuels that do not rely on food materials as feedstock, the building of well-functioning markets and regulatory institutions and increasingly efficient food storage, transportation and distribution systems.

"We pledged cooperation to bolster conditions conducive to promoting agricultural research and developments," the leaders said. "We directed APEC to help member economies develop science-based regulatory frameworks to benefit from the potential of agricultural biotechnology."

The 21 members of APEC are Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States, and Vietnam.

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