Enough and safe food is a basic human necessity. It is the most important requirement for a society to sustain itself, develop and prosper. We, the consumers, mostly living in urban societies, seem to be more and more detached from the rural world where hard-working farmers are the guarantors of our food supply, of our food security.
In this2011file photo, membersof a green farmers’ network call foran immediateban on toxic pesticides that had been withdrawn from Europe, theUSand someAsiancountries.
We tend to take it for granted that our food is safe. And as more and more people are absorbed by their urban professions, they accept, especially in the younger generation, to settle for fast or convenience food, not always conscious of what they consume.
As people are changing their eating habits, they become more and more dependent on food supply chains not knowing any more the origins of the food they are consuming. Yet, recurrent food scandals have become a constant reminder to us that food safety is not a forgone conclusion.
Consumers' trust in the authorities and institutions that oversee food quality and safety is crucial for any society. Public trust in food safety policies keeps the market functioning.
From the European experience _ after the outbreak of the so-called mad cow disease over a decade ago _ we know it takes a long time to restore trust once it has been severely damaged. At that time, authorities had not displayed the transparent and open communication needed to inform the general public. Mad cow disease cost Europe billions of dollars.
Food safety, as a result of our global consumer habits, has become a global issue. Consumers and market players around the globe react quickly to media reports covering food safety incidents.
Thus, a high level of food safety improves a country's position and competitiveness in international trade. Failing to comply with food safety standards triggers responses from trade partners such as additional controls and ultimately trade barriers. It is thus in the interest of all players to keep export markets open by reinforcing the system of food safety control already in the country of origin.
The records of the EU Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) show that in the last 10 years by far the highest share of notifications concerns products imported from Asian countries into the European Union. In 2011, Thailand managed to be not on the list of the top 10 countries with the largest number of cases of food imports found to be unsafe when reaching EU borders. However, for the second year in a row, there has been a sharp increase in RASFF notifications about pesticide residues.
There are more controls now on products from outside the EU at EU borders where, in most cases, the products are detained pending the results of analysis, thereby preventing non-compliant goods from entering EU markets. Due to the occurrence of multiple chemical residues, the frequency of EU border controls has been increased to up to 50% of all consignments coming from Thailand such as in the case of certain vegetables. Sampling is done at the points of entry into the EU and results are awaited before the product is released to customers.
Thai producers and exporters should take more care to make sure that residues from excessive and inappropriate pesticide use will not be present in our food, be it for foreign or domestic consumers.
This is not to say that Asia is the only source of global food safety problems.
The EU has had its own share of problems.
In 2011, the deadly consequences of the outbreak of the food borne disease EHEC in Germany served as a constant reminder that food control systems need to adapt to new challenges. Efforts to improve food safety should be better coordinated among countries to exchange experiences and assist adoption of new technologies and best practices.
Gerd Fleischer is Agricultural Trade and Food Safety Specialist at GIZ (German International Cooperation).
About the author
Writer: Gerd Fleischer