PUTRAJAYA, 23 March 2016 - “A prosperous ASEAN is first and foremost a healthy ASEAN. Sustaining ASEAN’s strong economic performance requires a healthy populace that will continue to fuel its growth,” said H.E. Le Luong Minh, Secretary-General of ASEAN, during his opening remarks at the official launching of the ASEAN Risk Assessment Centre (ARAC) for Food Safety yesterday in Putrajaya, Malaysia.

Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam, the Honourable Minister of Health Malaysia, led the official launching of the ARAC together with the Secretary-General of ASEAN.  The objective of ARAC is to provide independent scientific opinion on food safety issues that are of common interest in ASEAN. This will promote adoption of common position on food safety measures and facilitate safe trade.

More than two hundred diseases ranging from diarrhea to cancer is caused by unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances. Diarrheal diseases are the most common illnesses resulting from the consumption of contaminated food, causing 550 million people to fall sick and 230,000 deaths every year.  Globally, food safety has also become a health priority as it is inextricably linked to national productivity and development.  Foodborne diseases can hamper socio-economic development by draining health care systems, and harming national economies, tourism and trade (WHO, 2015).

These regional health concerns are currently addressed through the ASEAN Post 2015 Health Development Agenda for 2016 to 2020. This also includes one of the health priorities of enhancing food safety in the region which aims to strengthen capabilities, capacities, and advocacy in health related elements towards the strengthening of food control systems.

Food safety is a shared responsibility requiring active community participation and collaboration of a number of actors along the food chain – government, producers to consumers.  Collaboration within the ASEAN community demonstrates the collective effort of Member States to ensure food safety – a shared goal to protect the health and safety of populations within the ASEAN.

ARAC was initiated by the ASEAN Expert Group on Food Safety (AEGFS) and endorsed by ASEAN Health Ministers in September 2014 through the support of ASEAN Regional Integration Support by the European Union (ARISE) Programme.  The ARAC Secretariat with supporting staff is located at the Ministry of Health Malaysia.

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