The increasing globalisation of food trade including amongst ASEAN Member States, urbanisation, changing consumption patterns, the intensification of agriculture, increasing travel and tourism, and new types of production and manufacturing systems are some of the trends that are having an impact on food safety in many countries including in ASEAN. With such wide range of food safety challenges, a modern food safety system that is science-based is required to effectively cope with, and respond to the complex and evolving food safety issues.
Risk assessment is an internationally recognised scientific tool in the development of food safety measures. Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) has incorporated risk assessment principles into decision making process and has adopted Principles for Food Safety and Risk Analysis for use by national authorities.
Risk assessment is becoming more important to support safe food production and facilitate regional and international food trade. This is because international trade agreements developed under the World Trade Organisation (WTO), where many AMS are signatories, have emphasized the need for regulations governing international trade in foods to be based on scientific principles. The Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement (SPS) of WTO permits countries to take legitimate measures to protect the life and health of consumers, animals and plants provided such measures can be justified scientifically and do not unnecessary impede trade. Article 5 of the SPS Agreement directs countries to ensure that their sanitary and phytosanitary measures are based on an assessment of risk to human, animal or plant life or health, taking into account risk assessment techniques developed by relevant organisations such as CAC.
As a consequence, considerable interest and progress has been made in developing principles and implementing mechanism for risk assessment, which is being implemented in a number of different national, regional and international settings.
Situation on Risk Assessment of Food Safety in ASEAN
Currently, advancement on the implementation of risk assessment in ASEAN Member States (AMS) varies, where some countries with expertise are more advanced than others. This is reflected in the disparity in capacity and ability amongst AMS to generate and assess scientific input for risk-based interventions and regulatory approaches to food safety.
While at the ASEAN level, risk assessment activities are being undertaken through various initiatives by different ASEAN Sectoral bodies such as the Experts Working Group on the Harmonisation of Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) of Pesticides, under the ASEAN Sectoral Working Group on Crops (ASWGC), which is within the purview of the Senior Officials Meeting of the ASEAN Ministers on Agriculture and Forestry (SOM AMAF).
As such, the is a need for the establishment of an integrated ASEAN risk assessment mechanism to coordinate scientific assessment on food safety issues of common interest in ASEAN, promote the formulation of common management measures on these common food safety issues, as well as to facilitate efficient utilisation of the scientific resources and to avoid duplication of efforts.
The establishment of ARAC, located in Malaysia, is one of the most important milestones in the application of an integrated risk assessment mechanism by pooling and utilising scientific expertise across ASEAN to provide independent scientific opinion in facilitating the development of evidence-based common food safety measures and mutual recognition arrangement in ASEAN.
Such integrated efforts will not only contribute towards safe and quality food in the ASEAN Community but also in facilitating food trade within ASEAN, as ASEAN moves towards the objective of establishing an ASEAN Economic Community with a single market will eventually lead to the eventual goal of realising an ASEAN Single market. It will also enhance ASEAN solidarity in having one voice or common position on food safety issues.