Asia Pacific leaders are meeting in Honolulu through Sunday for the annual summit of APEC, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. On the sidelines, corporate chief executives have been meeting with officials of the 21 APEC economies. One result of this year's summit is a public-private partnership to ensure the safety of global food supplies.
The U.S. government says nearly 50 million Americans are made ill by the food they eat each year, and thousands die from food-borne illnesses annually.
American officials, corporate executives and World Bank managing director Sri Mulyani Indrawati announced a partnership Saturday to help APEC members and others ensure the safety of their food. Sri Mulyani says that problems in the food supply spread quickly.
“A food safety crisis that originates in one region can so rapidly become a crisis in another region,” said Sri Mulyani.
The United States upgraded its food safety standards last January when President Barack Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act. The new law focuses on prevention of food-borne illnesses, which Pamela Bailey, president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, says is crucial.
“Prevention is at the heart of food safety, preventing an incident before it occurs,” said Bailey.
The new fund aims at building oversight capacity, initially among members of the APEC trade group, which includes industrial countries such as the United States, emerging economies like China and Russia, and developing nations, including Vietnam.
Rohit Khanna of Waters Corporation, a maker of scientific instruments and a partner in the fund, says the strategy involves educating food producers and processors, and scientific testing. He says food suppliers who sell to industrial nations already test their food.
“That's critical,"said Khanna. "They have to make sure that before they export it, it's tested and it's going to meet our standards. But what's happening is, as these countries, as the poor population is now moving into a middle class arena, they're starting to expect the same type of quality of food locally that we would expect coming into the United States, for example.”
An American official, speaking at the launch of the Global Food Safety Partnership, said as much as 20 percent of the food Americans eat is imported, including 80 percent of their seafood, most of which comes from Asia. He says a strategy for food safety must be global.
Pamela Bailey says the new fund is a step in that direction. It is being launched with a modest one million dollars. Half of the sum is to be provided by Mars Incorporated, a global company known for its candy, and one quarter of the amount will come from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The World Bank will manage the fund.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association is providing its expertise, and the association's Pamela Bailey says the global food safety effort is just getting started.
“What's most important is the partnership - industry, [the] government of the U.S., I know we'll be joined by other governments, the World Bank, and it's the world's first global fund for food safety,” said Bailey.
An American aid official says the fund is part of a larger effort to reduce hunger and malnutrition around the world.