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Technology and innovation lead to global best practices

A ccording to the World Health Organisation (WHO) fact sheet on Food Safety 2002, each year 30 per cent of the developed world suffers from food borne diseases. In USA each year around 76 million cases of food borne diseases result in 5,000 deaths. In developing countries like India the problem is even more severe due to a wider range of diseases.

india Updated: Aug 21, 2006 20:38 IST

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) fact sheet on Food Safety 2002, each year 30 per cent of the developed world suffers from food borne diseases. In USA each year around 76 million cases of food borne diseases result in 5,000 deaths. In developing countries like India the problem is even more severe due to a wider range of diseases.
Contamination of soil and water is leading to the presence of harmful substances in our food. Organisations like the WHO, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and European Union (EU), in partnership with member countries, have come out with regulations and initiatives to fight this growing menace.
With 165 members, the Codex Alimentarius Commission (a subsidiary of FAO and WHO) is the highest international body on food quality and safety standards. Since 1993, the EU also has strict legislation regarding food contamination. The European Food Safety Authority stringently enforces these standards. Countries have also taken initiatives to tackle the problem. In response to the outbreak of mad cow disease in 2001, Japan enacted the Law Relating to Special BSE Countermeasures. It requires mandatory trace-back for cattle from the feedlot to the packing plant. Japanese cattle are tagged with a number recording their date of birth, breed, and slaughter date. The same number is printed on the beef packaging enabling the consumer to access information about the meat.

In the meat processing industry, Sweden has nearly eliminated Salmonella, one of the most common bacterial infections found in meat. A national control strategy initiated 40 years ago ensures low Sal monella prevalence in animals. This strategy involves the prevention of contamination in meat at all critical points in the food chain, with a focus on early elimination of infection.

International efforts are also being made to reduce soil, water and environmental pollution from heavy metals and pesticides. A UN Environment Programme 2004 paper lists the efforts of 28 countries to limit mercury pollution. For example, Switzerland continues to phase out many of the earlier applications of mercury like electrical equipment, batteries containing high percentage of mercury, etc. The FAO Pesticide Risk Reduction survey, 1999 also shows the efforts made by South Africa, Korea, Zambia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Ecuador and Jamaica to reduce the usage of hazardous/ harmful pesticides.

Innovation and technology enables quick info sharing between different agencies and countries, leading to better food surveillance and monitoring. The Electronic Laboratory Exchange Network (eLEXNET) is a seamless, web-based data exchange system for food testing information used by USA. Multiple agencies can compare, communicate, and coordinate laboratory findings. It enables health officials to assess risks and issue early-warnings for potentially hazardous foods.

The EU has also established a system to provide authorities with an effective tool for exchange of in formation called the EC Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF). The RASFF Commission is notified in case of a serious direct or indirect risk to human health, and it immediately transmits this in formation to other network members. Learning from these models, India too can set up an info-sharing network to report early cases of contamination and prevent a larger outbreak.