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Foodborne diseases (FBD) are an important cause of morbidity and mortality in humans worldwide. Animals play an important role in FBD and can be a source of pathogens in food products of animal origin (e.g. nontyphoidal salmonellosis) and also through faecal contamination of plant derived foods and water. Many of the pathogens responsible for FBD do not normally cause disease in animals. To minimise the risk of FBD, control measures should be considered at both the pre-harvest level and subsequent stages of the production-to consumption chain, i.e. ‘from farm to fork’.
The OIE Animal Production Food Safety (APFS) Working Group functions as a steering committee for the OIE’s work programme on standards to reduce food-borne risks to human health due to hazards arising during the animal production phase of the food chain. Membership includes high level experts from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and Codex Alimentarius (Codex), and internationally recognised experts in animal production food safety from around the globe. The Working Group meets at least once a year.
At the OIE Annual General Session, the World Assembly of Delegates adopts a Resolution on APFS work priorities of the OIE for the coming year.
The relationship between the OIE and the Codex is particularly important because risks to human health and food safety may arise at the farm and any subsequent stage in the food production continuum. Therefore, risk management must be tailored to detect and address risks at the appropriate stage(s). The OIE is responsible for setting standards in the domains of animal health and veterinary public health, including animal production food safety, to manage risks arising from the farm level through to primary processing, and the Codex from primary processing through to consumption. The OIE and Codex collaborate closely in the development of standards relevant to the whole food production continuum, taking care to avoid gaps, duplications and contradictions. OIE Members strongly support this collaboration.
Since its inception, the Working Group has provided advice to the Director General of the OIE and to its Specialist Commissions. Through its published reports the Working Group also provides a rich source of technical information to other interested parties including governments, FAO and WHO.
The following is a brief summary of the main achievements so far.
The Working Group has played an important role in strengthening cooperation between the OIE and the Codex and its subsidiary bodies. The OIE participates actively in the development of Codex standards through participation in relevant Codex Committees and Task Force meetings and by submitting written comments on draft Codex standards. Similarly, representatives of the Codex Secretariat and Chairs of Codex Working Groups, when relevant, are invited to participate in the development of OIE standards through participation in meetings of OIE ad hoc groups. The Director General of the OIE presents an update on relevant OIE activities to the Codex Alimentarius Commission meeting and a representative of the Codex reports on relevant Codex activities at the OIE General Assembly. In addition, there is regular contact between the Codex Secretariat and the OIE Headquarters in Paris. There are no joint OIE-Codex standards, but each organisation makes cross references to relevant standards of the other organisation in its own standards, as appropriate. The parallel development of OIE and Codex standards in areas such as Salmonella and foodborne parasites are examples of the much closer cooperation that has been achieved in recent years.
The Working Group has also emphasised the importance of cooperation between the OIE and Codex at the regional and national levels and encourages the OIE national Focal Points for Animal Production Food Safety to maintain close contact with the Codex Contact Points in their countries.
In 2003 the Working Group produced a document on “The role and functionality of Veterinary Services in food safety throughout the food chain”. This was further developed and later adopted, in 2008, by the OIE World Assembly of Delegates as Chapter 6.1 “The role of Veterinary Services in food safety” in the Terrestrial Animal Health Code (Terrestrial Code). This chapter outlines the role and responsibilities of national Veterinary Services in food safety and emphasises the need for cooperation with other authorities in the food production continuum to ensure the protection of both animal and public health.
In 2003, the Working Group produced a paper on Control of hazards of public and animal health importance through ante- and post-mortem meat inspection, this subject is a core responsibility of the Veterinary Services.
The document complements the Codex Code of Hygienic Practice for Meat and was used as a basis for the Terrestrial Code Chapter 6.2. “Control of biological hazards of public health and animal health importance through ante- and post-mortem meat inspection” which was adopted in 2006.
In 2004 the Working Group developed a paper entitled “Guide to Good Farming Practices for Animal Production Food Safety”. This was further developed by the OIE in cooperation with FAO and was published in 2010 jointly by FAO and OIE in English, French and Spanish. It complements existing guidance from OIE, FAO and Codex and serves as a generic guide to help Competent Authorities and stakeholders, particularly farmers, to meet their responsibilities to produce safe food of animal origin.
In 2006 the Working Group recommended the Director General of OIE appoint an ad hoc Group to develop draft standards on salmonellosis in poultry to complement the ongoing work of the Codex. The Working Group reviewed the document produced by the ad hoc Group, which was adopted by the World Assembly of Delegates as Chapter 6.5. “Prevention, detection and control of Salmonella in poultry” of the Terrestrial Code. Later the Working Group recommended that OIE should initiate work on Salmonella in pigs and cattle to complement the work of the Codex on salmonella in beef and pork ensuring a whole food chain approach.
In 2006 the Working Group recommended that OIE set up an ad hoc Group on animal feeding to develop OIE standards to complement the Codex Code of Practice on Good Animal Feeding. This led to the development and adoption of Chapter 6.3. “The control of hazards of animal health and public health importance in animal feed” in the Terrestrial Code and Chapter 4.8. “Control of pathogenic agents in aquatic animal feed” in the Aquatic Animal Health Code. The OIE has also taken an active part in the development of Codex documents on animal feed.
In 2008, the Working Group requested the preparation of a discussion paper on identifying the priority pathogens for future standard setting activities in animal production food safety. A short study, based on expert opinion and a literature review, identified the animal production food safety pathogens for which OIE could usefully develop standards. Prioritisation was based on a pathogen’s impact on human health and amenability to control using on-farm measures. The findings of the discussion paper, ‘Animal Production Food Safety: priority pathogens for standard setting by the OIE’, have been used by the Working Group to inform subsequent work.
One of the functions of the Working Group is to review draft OIE standards related to food safety and provide comments to the OIE Specialist Commissions, mainly the Code Commission. In addition to the subjects mentioned above, the Working Group has reviewed a large number of documents, including draft standards or other documents on bovine tuberculosis, Brucella spp., Taenia solium, Trichinella spp., Echinococcus granulosus and Echinococcus multilocularis, biosecurity procedures in poultry production, antimicrobial resistance, model veterinary certificates, identification and traceability of live animals, heat-treated pet food, veterinary education and veterinary legislation.