According to the FAO “Food and Nutrition in Numbers 2014” report, the LAC region is indeed a strong exporter of food, with 2011 exports of U.S. $112 billion. (In comparison, Asia’s 2011 exports were U.S. $142 billion.) Imports in the LAC were U.S. $52 billion in 2011.
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The World Trade Organization (WTO) reports that South and Central America exported a combined U.S. $217 billion in agricultural products in 2013, and Brazil alone ranked third globally in 2013 behind the European Union and the U.S., with U.S. $82.1 billion in exports of agricultural products.
The entire LAC region is composed of more than 30 countries, each with differing levels of advancement in their food safety characteristics, Dr. Caipo says, but basically all share membership in Codex Alimentarius.
Established in 1963, the Codex Alimentarius or the food code, has become the global reference point for consumers, food producers and processors, national food control agencies, and the international food trade. Codex standards are based on the best available science assisted by independent international risk assessment bodies or ad-hoc consultations organized by FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The 12 sovereign South American countries are all members of Codex. These include Argentina, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of).
(Although not the focus of this article, other LAC countries that are Codex members include: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.)
Positive Codex Influence
“The code has had an enormous impact on the thinking of food producers and processors, as well as on the awareness of the end users, namely consumers,” Dr. Caipo emphasizes. “Its influence extends to every continent, and its contribution to the protection of public health and fair practices in the food trade is immeasurable.”
Codex standards, while being recommendations for voluntary application by members, serve in many cases as a basis for national legislation, including in South America, Dr. Caipo relates.
“Codex members cover 99 percent of the world´s population,” she says. “Being an active member of Codex helps countries to compete in sophisticated world markets, and to improve food safety for their own population.”
The Coordinating Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean (CCLAC), a subsidiary body of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, coordinates food standards activities in the region, including the development of regional standards.
Food Safety Priorities
According to Dr. Caipo, the CCLAC 2014 report lists the issues and priorities for which support is requested from FAO and WHO as priorities for the LAC region:
- Strengthen the reference laboratories for food safety (staff training and accreditation);
- Actions that allow recognition of the work of the Codex Alimentarius by decision makers for more support and resources and for strengthening of national Codex committees;
- Funding to increase participation and effective participation in Codex meetings;
- Support to countries in the design and reformulation of public food safety policy;
- Strengthen mechanisms for coordination, collaboration and exchange of information for the control and prevention of foodborne diseases, and response to emergencies (alert systems);
- Support for data generation on consumer exposure to foodborne hazards and other relevant data for risk analysis and traceability;
- Improve the ability of small and medium food businesses to implement Good Manufacturing Practices, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points certified systems that enable them to ensure “food safety” and also the development of strategies for information, education, and communication (IEC) for producers and consumers to strengthen this topic;
- Promote IEC for consumers in order to strengthen citizens´ active participation in the implementation of Codex strategies; and
- Support and work alongside the countries in harmonizing and coordinating integrated risk based food inspection systems.
“These priorities and concerns reflect the rapidly changing food safety environment at the global level, where food supply chains are more complex and vulnerable, and will require changes at the regulatory level to adapt and evolve in response to country and consumer needs,” Dr. Caipo elaborates.