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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

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“Rome-ing” with CVM’s Representative to Recent FAO Conference

by Walt D. Osborne, M.S., J.D., Assistant Editor
FDA Veterinarian Newsletter 2007 Volume XXII, No V

I am sure that most readers are familiar with the expression, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” It is actually a somewhat loose translation of a quote from the fourth century Bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose. But unfortunately, for most government officials who attend conferences on important topics in foreign lands, there is little time or opportunity to absorb the local culture. This was borne out firsthand by Dr. Daniel McChesney, Director of CVM’s Office of Surveillance and Compliance, who attended the “Joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)/World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Meeting on Animal Feed Impact on Food Safety” at FAO’s headquarters in Rome, Italy, October 8-12, 1007.

I recently had an opportunity to spend a few moments with Dr. McChesney to learn more about the conference and to see what it is like to attend such meetings.

“It’s just another day at the office, only you get on a plane,” Dr. McChesney commented. The grandeur that was (and is) Rome was only a fanciful notion for Dr. McChesney, who barely had a chance to see the top of St. Peter’s Basilica and a few other sights in the distance from the eighth floor balcony of the FAO headquarters building.

The purpose of the conference was to review the current knowledge on animal feed and its impact on food safety to assist efforts by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (part of FAO) to develop further risk management guidance on the issue at the international level. As set forth in the “Charge” letter from FAO/WHO, a concomitant objective of the meeting was to formulate advice on the issue to share with Member Countries and international organizations. This year’s conference brought together representatives from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the European Commission (EC), and 13 other countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Russia, and the United States. Only four representatives in attendance were not associated with a government or the EC.

The assembled representatives met as a large group to discuss related topics that covered three general areas: the European Union (EU) and United States views of feed safety as it relates to food safety; toxicology (i.e., microbials, chemicals, and mycotoxins) and its role in feed and food safety; and contaminants (naturally occurring ones, those legally introduced into feed ingredients during their manufacture, and those possibly added as deliberate acts of terrorism). In addition, risk management as it pertains to additives in animal feed was discussed.

Report of the proceedings

Sometime in January 2008, a report on the proceedings from the FAO/WHO Conference will be made available in English, Spanish, and French on the FAO/WHO Web site. Preparation of this report is a fairly detailed and complex process, involving several iterations of the draft document before release of the final product.

Dr. McChesney noted that the Rome conference was conducted entirely in English, although some conferences are offered with simultaneous translations in Spanish and French, which can sometimes be problematic for Asian attendees.

Other somewhat thorny issues involve the various countries’ different nuances of meanings for certain terms. For example, certain products that the United States regards as drugs, such as those used to treat coccidiosis, are considered food additives by the EU. This difference can pose significant challenges during the discussions and when the report is being prepared. When issues like this arise, the default position is usually the Codex definition of a drug.

In Rome, one of the participants served as a reporter for each presentation and summarized the discussion. Once all the presentations were summarized, the compiled document was reviewed and vetted line by line by the entire group of conference representatives. Once agreed upon, a final draft was prepared by the Secretariat of the conference, and the entire group had one last opportunity to ensure that all concepts agreed upon were accurately captured. The Secretariat will then send this next iteration of the document electronically to all the participants, who are given one week to review and comment. At this point, FAO will incorporate any minor edits, and the document is then translated into Spanish and French and published on the Web site. It is also made available in hard copy.

All roads lead to Rome?

This famous catchphrase, attributed to Julius Caesar, has stayed in our common parlance for more than 2,000 years. For those attending an FAO conference, their taxi will take them to Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, where the flags of many nations flutter in the Roman air to greet anyone entering FAO headquarters. But as Dr. McChesney learned on his first trip to the Eternal City, the other roads of Rome remained untraveled for him and his colleagues but sparked his interest enough so that he hopes to return another day when he does not have to present a paper.

When asked about the value of this and similar FAO/WHO conferences, Dr. McChesney answered, “Just being able to hear international animal feed experts share their knowledge on this globally important topic was well worth it. Meanwhile, my wife’s vivid description of her view of the Sistine Chapel will have to suffice.” Eccellente!