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 January 16 2008
Participants visited the Han-Kuan Fruit and Vegetable Production Cooperative in central Taiwan where member cooperatives observe strict adherence to GAP to meet MRL standards.

Participants visited the Han-Kuan Fruit and Vegetable Production Cooperative in central Taiwan where member cooperatives observe strict adherence to GAP to meet MRL standards.

TAICHUNG, TAIWAN - The food safety systems in both developed and developing countries in the Asian region face unprecedented challenges arising from the globalization of food trade, shifts in food consumption patterns, and more intensive food production techniques to meet the needs of an ever increasing population and of the changing consumer demands.

International trade in agricultural products has expanded rapidly worldwide, fueled by the growing consumer demand and technological developments in marketing and processing, enabling huge volumes of food products, fresh and processed alike, to be traded among distant countries. While many Asian countries have become major players in international trade, one vital challenge is the proliferation and strengthening of food safety standards and technical regulations, especially in developed countries. For lack of capacity and experience, many developing Asian countries are struggling to comply with the emerging requirements and the high costs of compliance to these standards and regulations, further marginalizing small enterprises and small-scale farmers in the region.

Meanwhile, in some Asian countries where population grows more rapidly than food production, food security remains as important as food safety. High inputs of agrochemicals are still practiced aiming at improving crop yields. As a consequence, persistent residues of these chemicals may contaminate food and disperse in the environment, jeopardizing the health and well-being of the consuming public.

Recently, standards for maximum level of agrochemical residues in foods in many Asian countries have become more rigid as a way of coping with both food safety and trading concerns alike. Hence, inspection system and development of analytical method for agrochemical residues have become necessary as enforcement mechanisms to remove unsafe products from the market. At the same time, several Asian countries are now moving toward a food chain approach by applying regulatory controls at the point where they are most effective, such as the Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) model, to reduce levels of agrochemicals and other contaminants at the production stage.

Sharing and exchange of information

The international seminar on Management of Agro-chemical Residues in Foods held on October 1-5, 2007 in Taichung, Taiwan ROC was organized in view of the common goal among Asian countries to develop and promote the adoption of a common and workable protocol for agrochemical-residue analysis and GAP system for small- and medium-scale farmers in the region. Attended by 21 international participants from 9 countries, 6 local participants, 7 resource persons and around 30 guests and local observers, the seminar was sponsored by the Asian Productivity Organization (APO) and the Council of Agriculture (COA), Taiwan, and organized by FFTC, the Taiwan Agricultural Chemicals & Toxic Substances Research Institute (TACTRI), the China Productivity Center (CPC), and the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine (BAPHIQ), COA, Taiwan.

Specifically, the activity aimed to: review regulations and standards of agrochemical residues in foods in the participating Asian countries; exchange relevant analytical technology of agrochemical residues in food products; share information on relevant GAP systems to minimize agrochemical residues in foods; and discuss the possibility of harmonizing regulations and standards, analytical technology, and GAP system especially in the context of small- and medium-scale Asian farmers.

Harmonizing regulations and standards

Reducing risks in food depends on effective legal, technical, and administrative frameworks. Therefore, governments must have the political will to take the necessary steps to develop, adopt and implement comprehensive national food safety standards based on internationally recommended standards, guidelines and codes of practice (such as CODEX, HACCP, GAP/GMP, ISO 9000) and founded on scientific principles and risk analysis/assessment. The application of regulatory and non-regulatory measures at appropriate points in the food chain from pre-production to marketing or distribution is necessary so that the food meets such food safety standards.

While aiming for the harmonization of food safety standards in the context of multi-lateral trading may not be feasible at this time, bilateral negotiations may prove to be a more practical direction for exporting and importing countries in the Asian region, especially in view of the opportunities posed by the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement with its goal of coming up with a comprehensive program of regional tariff reduction and developing common product certification standards in the region.

Agrochemical management should be an important component of every country's food safety program, to include proper registration procedure considering risks to human health and the environment as well as efficacy to target pests, and setting of maximum residue limits (MRLs) as well as inspection and development of analytical method for agrochemical residues.

While MRLs are currently implemented in different Asian countries using various levels and mechanisms, the CODEX system recognized by most countries worldwide is a good reference norm. Vital as it may seem in terms of greatly minimizing trade issues related to agrochemical residues, unifying MRLs among trading countries may not be realistic. Therefore, countries in the region must enhance their efforts to develop their own MRLs based on internationally-accepted standards, but are adapted to their own conditions, needs and requirements (TMDI, ADI, food consumption data, etc.).

Some developing Asian countries are considerably lagging behind in terms of analytical methodology/protocol for MRL setting and residue testing, and lack the facilities/equipment and trained personnel for sophisticated scientific procedures. In view of this, sharing and exchange of information, as well as technical cooperation among developed and developing countries in establishing protocol on MRL setting and proficiency testing/analytical methodology is of vital importance.

Future prospects and recommendations

Countries in the Asian region must develop their own GAP protocol, based on tested technology packages for competitive commodities, and using international standards as reference norms to attain the basic concepts of sustainable production practices and quality and safety of produce. It is likewise critical to advocate strong government support, political will and legislation in promoting GAP, particularly in terms of standardization/certification, farmers' education and training, research and development on quality management systems, and funding to develop and maintain traceability systems. Compliance by the farmers must also be ensured through intensified extension and education activities.

In the context of a globalizing economy, there should be domestic policy support in favor of small- and medium-scale farmers. Therefore, in some developing countries, GAP protocols can only be successful if introduced in the context of group farms or production and marketing units. Enabling policy must be present to group small-scale farmers into local production and marketing units, and to provide them with training and support services to enhance their entrepreneurial management capacities; improve access to product and market information; and gain access to technology and credit.

Some future challenges and needs identified during the seminar are as follows: 1) collection of GAP and traceability information in other countries; 2) establishment of each country's own GAP and traceability system; 3) infrastructure improvement of analytical equipment; and 4) capacity building of analysts and laboratory workers.