Speechs in the year
Tarikh/Date 	: 	03/09/90 

 Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen.
    I would like to thank the organisers for inviting me to
address  this  First  Asian Conference on Food Safety.  Food
safety is an increasingly important issue that  is  of  per-
sonal  interest to all of us, to our families and to our na-
2.   This Conference provides an opportunity for  developing
countries  in the region to discuss matters relating to food
safety as well as trade and economic goals  in  a  concerted
and positive manner.  This Conference also presents a timely
opportunity for those of you in government as well as indus-
try  to  consider  the  various approaches towards improving
food safety in all the countries of  Asia  where  more  than
half the world's population live.  To ensure some measure of
success,  political commitment at the highest levels will be
needed to give the necessary momentum.
Ladies and gentlemen,
3.   The world food situation is generally more positive now
than it was a decade ago.  In some parts of the world,  food
surpluses rather then food shortages is seen as the problem.
However,  food  production  worldwide  is only increasing at
about 2.6% per year, slightly faster than the growth of  the
world's population. The perspective of feeding the world has
also  changed  considerably.    There is still hunger in the
world, but this is mostly caused by war  and  civil  strife,
disorganization in transportation and distribution, and poor
purchasing power.
4.   Although  the  subject of this Conference is scientific
in nature, we cannot totally ignore the social and  economic
factors,  which, if not addressed, will impede the implemen-
tation of food safety programmes worldwide.  Today there  is
a  vast  and growing difference in income and wealth between
rich and poor nations, and in  many  instances  between  the
rich and the poor within each nation.  And, we have seen, in
many  developing  countries,  there  are  people eking out a
meagre hand-to-mouth existence, who in times of economic re-
cession, may be forced to face food shortages,  which  could
be further aggravated by the problems of food safety.
5.   Food  safety  currently  appears  to be one of the most
widespread health problems in the world.  Some of the under-
lying causes of this problem are as old as the  human  race,
while  others are the results of more recent developments of
modern society.  The widespread use of agrochemicals  is  an
example  of  the double edged sword of modern  technology --
without them our food production would be severely  limited,
but their use also poses risks to our environment and health
and  in  some  instances  to food sources themselves.  While
scientific progress has offered the  advantages  of  a  more
abundant, diverse and safer food supply, assuring the safety
of food requires constant vigilance based on the most modern
and up-to-date methods and knowledge.
Ladies and gentlemen,
6.   In  the  past  few years, a number of food trade issues
have clouded relations between  producing  developing  coun-
tries  and  the  developed  consumer and producer countries.
Unjustified claims as a basis of health and safety by  those
able to mount massive propaganda campaigns have actually de-
prived  consumers  of cheap sources of food generally coming
from developing countries.   In  the  process  the  producer
countries in the developing south have suffered.  The reason
for  the  campaign is not the concern with health and safety
but is due to purely economic considerations of the  parties
concerned.  Such irrespossible behaviour is not contributing
to  food  safety or to overcoming poverty or food shortages.
Another trade barrier is the over-zealous implementation  of
quarantine  measures  which  prevent direct exports of fresh
produce  and  animal  products  from  developing  countries.
Specifications  and  standards demanded by importers have to
be realistic.   Advancements in analytical  techniques  have
made  possible  the  detection  of contaminants, at first in
parts per million, then, parts per billion and now parts per
trillion.   Scientists will continue to  chase  the  elusive
zero, but is this realistic for implementation?
7.   Efforts are being made, at the current round of negoti-
ations  under  the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs to
use available international standards in  adjudicating  dis-
putes  involving  issues of safety and health.  The world is
moving towards a common set of criteria for  assessing  food
safety,  and  it is these global criteria which will have to
be accepted at the national level.  This Conference,  there-
fore,  comes at a critical time when we all must rationalize
our food safety decisions and improve our  understanding  of
the  wider areas of food safety.  In this context, it is im-
perative that we think globally, yet act locally  to  assure
our  consistency  with  international food safety standards.
While those in the region  must  help  themselves  and  each
other in achieving the international standard, international
cooperation  is  also required since the world food trade is
now truly global.  And, through experience, to be  more  ef-
fective  these international activities should be undertaken
at the regional level.
8.   In addition to the global trade aspects of food safety,
developing countries of Asia further face prevalent problems
of foodborne diseases, largely caused by poor food  handling
practices.   According to reports of the World Health Organ-
ization, gastrointestinal  infections  are  among  the  main
causes  of morbidity among infants and young children in de-
prived  societies.    Although  the  problem  of   foodborne
diarrhoea is worldwide, it is particularly acute in develop-
ing  countries,  where nutritionally inadequate diets render
the problem even more severe.  Foodborne diarrhoea is a  ma-
jor contributor to malnutrition and may trigger very serious
chronic diseases.
9.   Reports  from  developed  countries  indicate that most
foodborne diseases are caused by  microbiologically  contam-
inated  food,  and  the  source  of  the  contamination has,
rightly or wrongly, been attributed to products or  tourists
coming  from  the  developing  countries, or the ethnic food
handlers working in the countries  concerned.    Statistical
data  also  show that in many countries, including developed
countries, the incidence of these diseases has  dramatically
increased over the past several years.
10.  Microbial  foodborne  diseases  are  not  the only food
safety problem that is of concern to developing countries of
Asia.  Currently, the use of  pesticides,  growth  hormones,
antibiotics, illegal additives, as well as environmental and
industrial  pollution,  have increased the multitude of food
safety problems.  On the other hand, affluent societies suf-
fer from improper diets which lead to obesity,  hypertension
and cardiac arrest.
Ladies and gentlemen,
11.  The  safety of food is a complex issue.  It is an issue
to health authorities, it is an issue to producers,  and  it
is an issue to consumers.  Around the world, it has resulted
in deaths of many innocent victims, losses to food companies
in  terms  of  closures,  loss  of consumer confidence, lost
working hours, hospitalizations and  compensations,  not  to
mention  the  cost of lengthy legal proceedings.  It has af-
fected the image of many countries.  Food safety  programmes
vary tremendously from country to country.
12.  Developing  countries have to collectively overcome the
many constraints facing them.  We need to have adequate  and
effective  laws and regulations which are constantly updated
to keep pace with changes in social structures, food habits,
modern agriculture and food technology.  Given the multidis-
ciplinary nature of food safety, there must  be  coordinated
interministerial  approach  among the different implementing
agencies in each country.  Proper infrastructure  and  basic
laboratory  facilities  have  to  be provided and inspection
services upgraded.  These physical provisions will not be of
much use if trained human resources are neglected.  This  is
where international cooperation will be most appreciated.
13.  There  must  also  be community awareness of issues in-
volved in food safety and these programmes should  be  inte-
grated  into  primary  health care systems.   Consumers also
have a key role to play in assuring food  safety.    By  in-
creasing  their awareness and knowledge of food safety, con-
sumers can learn to protect themselves  and  their  families
from  foodborne  hazards  both in the market place and their
own homes.
14.  Talking about consumers, I sometimes wonder  how  know-
ledgeable  consumers  in  developed  countries  really  are.
Lately there is an attempt to mislead consumers in  the  de-
veloped  countries with such labelling as "no tropical oil".
All these labellings put doubts in the consumer's mind,  and
question  the  role of food control authorities.  Ingredient
labelling, required by law, is meant  to  inform  consumers,
but  not to deceive them.  If it is wrong to deceive consum-
ers regarding the "goodness" of certain food  when  such  is
not  proven, surely it must be equally wrong to deceive con-
sumers on the "badness" of the food concerned when  such  is
not  proven.  It is even more wrong when the intention is to
get a competitive edge for another product.
15.  Food scientists, like all scientists, have been  reluc-
tant  to voice their opinions for fear of being quoted inac-
curately.  It should be a scientist's responsibility and the
journalist's desire to be clear to the public.   This  some-
times  means using non-scientific language but it should not
mean sacrificing accuracy.   Too often the  expert  explains
scientific  consensus,  and may feel the job is completed by
mere accurate transmission of facts.  But telling  a  mother
the  residue  she just fed her baby has less than a one in a
million cancer risk does not reduce her fear, but  alienates
her  further.    On the other hand, the mass media should be
more responsible in their reporting, and not cause  consumer
alarm with their "media outbreak".
16.  Malaysia  has  recognized the importance of a safe food
supply and has given it top priority.  This recognition does
not mean that Malaysia has overcome the problems  associated
with  unsafe  food.    We  have  experienced  many  cases of
foodborne outbreaks, the most  serious  one  being  in  1988
which  cost  the lives of 13 innocent children.  We are com-
mitted to doing everything possible to  ensure  that  condi-
tions associated with this tragic incident would not recur.
Ladies and gentlemen,
17.  The  changing  nature  of  the food business will bring
about new problems, still unforseen.  Legislators must  take
into  account  food  risk-benefit  arguments as they set the
climate for food regulations.  Through meetings  like  this,
the common goal of meeting the target of health through food
safety, can be achieved through developing national capabil-
ities and enhancing our economic viability.  Given the scar-
city  of  our resources, priorities must be established, and
priority must be given to the never ending  process  of  im-
proving  the  provision  of  basic  human needs and economic
Ladies and gentlemen,
18.  I wish this conference every success  in  its  deliber-
ations.    With  this remark I now have much pleasure to de-
clare open the First Asian Conference on Food Safety.