Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Minister underscores need to face food security challenges

Dubai, 24 February 2009: Minister of Environment and Water, Dr. Rashid Ahmed Bin Fahad, has emphasized the need to coordinate efforts by all government apparatus in the country in order to face challenges related to food security especially in the wake of the current economic crisis.
He was speaking at the opening session of the 4th Dubai International Food Safety Conference, which was being held at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre on the sidelines of the Gulfood Exhibition.
Bin Fahad explained that the over the past two years, the world experienced a food security crisis that reached its peak in the middle of last year. “There were a lot of political, social and economical repercussions for this crisis in every country on this planet that turned the spotlight on this highly sensitive subject. As a direct result of this concern, there has been a reversal of economic policies, theories and strategies that have been prevailing in the world for the past three decades,” the minister added.

He noted that the UAE has adopted the best policies to ensure food security through a set of policies that are implemented jointly by several ministries and government agencies and in partnership with the private sector. The mechanism for implementing these policies has been developed taking into consideration the climatic and environment conditions so that these short-term and long-term plans can be implemented successfully. These plans included, for instance, raising the self efficiency ratio of local produce, especially those with proportionally high competence rates, encouragement of investment, and provision of advanced infrastructure to set up high-quality food industries.
Hussain Nasser Lootah, Director General of Dubai Municipality, also addressing the opening session, said the conference provides a forum for education, knowledge transfer and development of new skills and professional development of all involved in managing food safety.
He noted that the event assumes much significance at the time of heightened food warnings and recalls worldwide, that raise new questions about the quality and integrity of the existing system for assuring food safety.
"Food safety is receiving increased attention worldwide as the important links between food and health are increasingly recognized. In the past few months we have seen a plethora of food warnings and recalls worldwide, raising new questions about food safety. Urgent action is required to create an international framework to secure food safety in times of globalization, when accidents in one country can have a major impact on many other countries," said Lootah.
Khalid Sharif Al Awadhi, Director of Food Control Department and Conference Chairman, also spoke in the opening session and shed light on the conference theme “Food Safety in Light of Food Security.” He noted that the current global financial crisis has resulted in the rise of food price index of grains, milk, meat, oil and sugar by 54 per cent during last year as per statistics of the Food and Agriculture Organisation. The food grain price alone rose by 92 per cent whereas prices of diary products doubled over the past two years.
He listed the challenges of food security in the gulf countries as the heavy reliance on imported food products which account for 60 to 80 per cent of their overall food needs, change in the life style of gulf counties due to the fast urbanization process, the cultural and educational gap of employees working in the food industry as they belong to more than 100 nationalities, and the mandatory compliance of animal-related food with the principles of Islamic sharia.
Some other challenges, he noted, were growing cases of cheating in food products sale, spread of wrong information on food safety in medium of communication such as Internet and SMS, speedy changes in food production techniques…etc.
He noted that the government agencies in the GCC countries should change the traditional inspection techniques and should adopt modern systems that are based on assessing risks, educate food handlers, make the people aware of food safety so as to reduce food poison cases and reduce food waste, build lab facilities to detect new types of food pollutants, and encourage scientific research and interaction with food safety authorities.

David W. Tharp, Executive Director of International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) which is world's leading association of food safety professionals, also addressed the gathering. Lauding the successful organising of the 4th cycle of Dubai International Food Safety Conference, he said IAFP was pleased to be associated with Dubai Municipality in setting up the event's programme and identifying its speakers.
Several high profile speakers are attending the 3-day conference, including Prof. Steve Hathaway from New Zealand Food Safety Authority and Dr. Ezzedine Boutrif, Chief of Food Quality and Standards Service of FAO and industry experts like Dr. Steve Rizk from Mars Snack Foods, Dr. Ahmet Anbarci from Kraft foods and Johann Grosz, Group Leader in Quality Assurance, Nestle Research Center, Switzerland.
The event features several interactive programs from both local and international speakers, tailored to the unique and diverse requirements of the audience. Its main theme, “Food Safety in light of Food Security,” addresses approaches to enhance food safety and at the same time reduce food wastage. It will focus on key areas to improve trade-related judgments including the use of strong scientific principles and effective food safety management systems.
The conference comprises of five plenary sessions on the main theme “Food Safety in Light of Food Security”, eight symposia on different topics, poster sessions and technical sessions. Various programs during the conference discuss recent food safety issues and the benefits and effectiveness of new standards, and methods that many countries have established for enhancing and regulating food safety. Symposia topics include Food Safety Updates, Advancements in Food Testing, Food Safety Education, Pesticides Management in Foods and Best Practices. Renowned scientists from international agencies, governments, health and research institutions, as well as the industry will share their perspectives; discuss best practices and harnessing of new technologies for sustainable actions to secure safer and better food supply.

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