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Forum to Improve Health and Food Safety Standards to be Held Next Week

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The first meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Food Safety Cooperation Forum will be held on 2-4 April 2007 in the Hunter Valley in the Australian state of New South Wales.

Australia will co-chair the forum in partnership with China.

In preparation for the forum, Australia's Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Brett Mason, highlighted the importance of food safety in the region.

"Food borne infections not only kill and cause significant physical distress to large numbers of people each year, food borne illness impose major costs, including the burden on medical and hospital services, lost production from sick employees, disruption to the food trade and loss of public confidence in food safety and standards," Senator Mason said.

"Improving food safety and standards levels throughout the region will not only contribute to the region's development and provide economic benefits, it will improve the health and well-being of the entire population.

"APEC members agreed in November 2006 to establish the APEC Food Safety Cooperation Forum in recognition of the need to strengthen food cooperation and prioritise capacity building in food regulation.

"Our aim is to encourage regional economies to work together to improve health and food safety for all people in the region by harmonising food safety regulations with international standards. This will also facilitate greater trade in food products throughout the region."

The APEC Food Safety Cooperation Forum will assist participating members to increase their technical capacity to develop domestic food safety regulatory systems, including harmonising their food inspection and assurance and certification regimes with international standards.

The forum will operate as an advisory body to APEC (via the Sub-Committee on Standards and Conformance) providing APEC food safety regulators with an opportunity to guide and influence the allocation of funding to food safety capacity-building activities in the Asia-Pacific region.

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