APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation), a forum of 21 Pacific Rim countries, including the United States, seeks to promote free trade and economic cooperation throughout the region. Member economies account for nearly 50 percent of the world’s food production, and over 40 percent of its population.
Signing the MOU with APEC, World Bank vice president for sustainable development Inger Andersen said: "Food safety is an increasingly significant part of the World Bank’s lending and technical assistance programs in East Asia and the Pacific, as well as in other regions. We are extremely pleased to be working with APEC to bring more attention to this critical issue.
“This new agreement will strengthen our joint efforts to mobilize resources and promote and support capacity building to better ensure food safety concerns.”
‘Capacity building’ refers to creating more laboratory capacity in member countries for foodborne pathogen testing. The APEC forum has previously put this forward as one of the most critical food safety training needs in the region, alongside risk assessment, incident management, and supply chain management.
APEC secretariat executive director Ambassador Muhamad Noor said: “Food trade is increasingly becoming a global issue with complex and inter-related supply chains, which raises the need to address the question of food safety.”
In the United States, an increasingly global food network has led to greater concern among consumers about the safety checks in place for both domestic and imported food. Concern in the US tends to spike following high-profile recalls, such as the 2008 melamine-tainted milk scandal in China, and peanut butter products contaminated with salmonella in the US in 2009.
A Deloitte survey released earlier this month found that 73 percent of Americans are now more concerned about food safety than they were five years ago – and imported food was among their top areas of concern.
Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) president and CEO Pamela Bailey, who was also present at the signing, applauded the move.
She said: “Although the US has one of the safest food supplies in the world, there is still more work to be done, especially as food supply chains become more global. Our operating model on food safety has been and continues to be very clear – industry must take the initiative to improve food safety in its own operations and through a genuine partnership with key stakeholders, including governments.”
Imports account for about 15 percent of the total US food supply, including 60 percent of fresh fruit and vegetables and 80 percent of seafood. According to the Government Accountability Office, there are about 189,000 registered foreign sites where food is made for sale in the United States, but the FDA only inspects a tiny fraction of them – just 153 in 2008.
The APEC sub-committee on standards and conformance’s food safety cooperation forum and the World Bank have agreed to work together closely on training programs to improve food safety standards and practices in the region, as well as to facilitate trade.