Finding out about the food safety requirements and alerts in other countries just got easier, with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) launching a searchable database of member governments' measures.
The tool, which documents food, animal and plant safety measures worldwide, is a resource that can help managers meet new export criteria, or find out if there could be a problem with a particular ingredient sourced from a region.
The SPS Information Management System (SPS IMS) allows users to track and obtain information on measures that member governments have submitted to the WTO.
The submissions include information on new export and food safety requirements, specific trade concerns that governments have raised, documents of the WTO's sanitary and phytosanitary measures committee, member governments' national enquiry contacts, and the authorities who handle notifications.
Specific areas also deal with supplements and what equivalent food safety measures are accepted by trading partners.
The WTO has used an internal version of the system to produce official documents such as sanitary and phytosanitary measures notifications, and in developing faster and more comprehensive analyses and reporting on the issues.
The WTO has released a public version of the system to help member governments and others find the information according to their specific needs.
For example, the system allows searches to be based on a variety of criteria such as geographic groupings, product codes, comment periods, keywords, and foods.
The information system is part of an effort by the WTO to break down trade barriers relating to foods. Regulations on food safety can often serve as a barrier to competitive exports from other countries.
The WTO's Codex Alimentarius Commission is the body set up to harmonise food safety and other export requirements around the world.
Member countries' representatives meet regularly to debate a common position on every aspect of such requirements, from the holding temperatures frozen meat should be kept at, to processing requirements for specific cheeses.
The standards forged under such agreements are recognised as international benchmarks by one of the WTO's multilateral agreements and aim to help international food trade by eliminating many of what the UN calls "unjustified technical barriers" set up by some countries.
Agreements forged at Codex meetings could eventually affect the way processors operate worldwide as they become incorporated into national laws.
The SPS Information Management System is available at http://spsims.wto.org.