Monday, February 28, 2011

6th Dubai International Food Safety Conference opens; Environment Minister says UAE is well equipped to face food safety challenges




UAE Minister of Environment and Water, Mr. Rashid Ahmed Bin Fahad on Monday said the United Arab Emirates, which rely mainly on imports to meet the needs of food stuffs and products, has always shown keen interest to the issue of health and food safety and given care in accordance with the term "farm to fork."

He was delivering the inaugural address in the sixth Dubai International Food Safety Conference hosted by Dubai Municipality at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre. The conference, which is being held alongside the Gulfood Exhibition under the slogan, "Food Safety in Emerging Economies – What Is Achievable, Reliable and Sustainable," will be concluded on March 1.

Fahad said the country’s keenness in the issue is reflected in formulating control procedures for food materials and products at border crossing points, sale outlets, preparation and storage points, and production centres, as well as developing national standards and laboratory tests of these materials.

The conference is being conducted in cooperation with the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States of America, the Food and Agriculture (FAO) of the United Nations, the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP), UAE Ministry of Environment and Water, Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, UAE University.

Fahad expressed the fears and growing concerns related to food safety in countries with emerging economies in particular and developed countries in general.
He said these problems could limit the potential of these countries to enter into the global market, which will reflect on global food security.

“The production of sufficient quantities of food to meet the increasing population growth and to reduce the number of hungry people in the world is no longer the only important thing that can achieve global food security, but it must be accompanied by increased production with maximum possible safety to avoid any risk of food products that can damage human health as a result of the absence or inadequacy of safety procedures,” said the Minister.
 
He added that human and economic losses resulting from diseases transmitted by food products is a problem of serious and dangerous proportion.

“Despite the difficulty of assessing the incidence of these diseases at the global level, the World Health Organization suggests that the proportion of people who suffer each year from diseases transmitted through food in the industrialized countries amounts to 30%. The Centre for Disease Control in the United States indicates in a recent report issued at the end of last year that diseases transmitted through food affects about 48 million Americans of whom 3,000 die annually. In many of the developing countries, the high prevalence of diarrheal diseases suggests the existence of major problems in the field of food safety, says World Health Organization,” Fahad pointed out.

“Because of its close relationship with human health, the issue of food safety is receiving increased attention at both the official and popular level and considered one of the issues of public health priority, especially in light of the increasing challenges they face. The most important is the need to increase food production to cope with rapid population growth, increase in the traffic of food materials and products across borders, development of biotechnology techniques, increase in the production of genetically modified organisms, the continued heavy use of chemicals in agricultural production and food industry, and the growing dangers posed by animal diseases, climate change, and changing patterns of consumption and others. It is without doubt enormous challenges when compared to the human materials and resources in many countries,” he said.
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Eng. Hussain Nasser Lootah, Director General of Dubai Municipality said the conference has become accepted by those looking for the latest developments in food safety in the world.

“It has also become a source of pride to us in the Emirate of Dubai, with an increase in the number of participants this year to more than 1,200 participants. The first session in 2006 had only 200 participants. This could be achieved due to the Municipality’s vision of making the emirate a center of excellence. The number of food establishments in the Emirate of Dubai was 11,752 in 2009 and it rose to 13,761 in 201o, he pointed out.

Lootah said that food imports to the United Arab Emirates represent about 90% of the total amount of food that is consumed in the country and more than 80% of these foods are imported through the Emirate of Dubai.

“The amount of food that is imported via Dubai has increased from 4.3 million tons in 2009 to approximately 6 million tons in 2010, despite the financial crisis, which confirms the leadership of Dubai as an important commercial hub in the world. More than 160 countries import food to Dubai,” he said.
 
Lootah said food that was imported from countries with emerging economies and developing countries comes to more than 65% of the total amount of food imported to the Emirate of Dubai in 2010.

He said the most effective way to ensure the safety of food imported to the Emirate of Dubai is to ensure the application of the standards of food safety in the countries with emerging economies and developing countries.

“Dubai Municipality Food Control Department has endeavoured, since its inception, to establish an integrated regulatory system to ensure the safety of imported, manufactured and circulated food. This system was developed by adopting best international practices in this area and implementing programs and initiatives taking into account consumer health and safety, specifically of the Emirate of Dubai, which is becoming a bigger global trade hub every day in spite of the financial crisis that hit the world recently,” said Lootah.

“We in the municipality work to ensure that these programs and initiatives must take into account the application of standards, laws and procedures that will ensure smooth flow of regional and international trade. The Municipality pioneered in the establishment of modern systems such as the Food Import and Re-export System (FIRS), which is the latest leap in the quality control of imported food. This will also be explained by local officials in the sessions of this Conference. The application of HACCP system led by Dubai Municipality at the regional level since the late nineties of the last century has developed methods of food safety in many food establishments that apply this system,” he said.

“Through the organization of the Dubai International Food Safety Conference for six consecutive years and through its partnerships with many of the international and regional academic institutions and departments, Dubai Municipality has updated its strategies for ensuring food safety. The application of self-censorship system is one of the fruits of these partnerships. It is better to activate the role of food establishments as they have become partners in the regulatory process. These efforts have culminated in the recent introduction of the system of Person In Charge (PIC) in establishments such as different food restaurants, factories as well as food imports establishments. The Municipality counts lot on this system in bringing about a quantum leap in reducing violations of these establishments,” said Lootah.

“When the increased index of diseases transmitted by food is a proof of the success or failure of food control, the Municipality has given this special attention as about two years ago it developed a tracking system for the diseases transmitted by food in cooperation with the Dubai Health Authority, and in coordination with the World Health Organization and the U.S. Center for Disease Control, which is considered the best center of its kind in the world, he said.

During the opening session Khalid Mohammed Sharif, Director of Food Control Department and Chairman of the Organizing Committee, Dubai Municipality gave the keynote presentation titled "Dubai: A Global Food Village."

The key note address in the opening session of the conference titled, “Foods Safety in Emerging Economies: What is Reliable, Achievable and Sustainable” was delivered by Dr. Karen Hulebak, Chairman of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, who talked about Food Safety, Global Trade and Emerging Economies: A Codex Prespective.” It was followed by a presentation by Dr. V. Prakash, Director, Central Food Technological Research Institute, India, who talked about “The Food Safety Issues in Developing Economies Demands a Holistic Approach Inclusive of Codex and Beyond…A Perspective.”

Dr. Paul A Hall, President, AIV Microbiology and Food Safety Consultants, talked about “Protecting Our Products and Consumers in a Global Society,” followed by a presentation by Bill Marler on “Reducing the Burden of Foodborne Diseases-Is the Food Industry Doing its Best?”

International experts from the GCC countries, America, Europe, Ireland, New Zealand and India will lecture in the conference on various issues related to food safety, which include specifications and technical requirements related to food safety.

The conference programme addresses several core themes related to food legislation and procedures, applications, and general culture related to food safety and activating the role of awareness.