Delegates from 45 countries and regions Tuesday issued a joint declaration in Beijing to boost information exchange on food contamination and disease outbreaks.
They also agreed that developed countries should help developing nations build food safety capacities to ensure safer food for all.
The Beijing Declaration on Food Safety came at the conclusion of a two-day international forum that brought together experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) and about 600 delegates from nations including the United States, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Thailand and Japan.
"This is not the first international agreement related to food safety... but it's the first time that we have countries getting together and saying, 'let's recognize that it's a joint responsibility and we should work together to improve it'," Jorgen Schlundt, Geneva-based executive director of the WHO's Food Safety Department, told reporters.
"In that sense, we believe that it's a significant step forward."
The document urges all countries to:
- establish procedures, including tracking and recall systems, to rapidly identify, investigate and deal with food safety incidents.
- inform WHO of emergencies such as the outbreaks of mad cow disease.
- set up food and total diet monitoring programs with linkages to human and food-animal disease surveillance systems to obtain rapid and reliable information on food-borne diseases and hazards in food supply.
Realizing that food safety standards could be used as a trade barrier, the declaration stipulates that food safety measures should be based on sound scientific evidence and risk analysis principles and should not create trade barriers.
Urging cooperation between developing and developed countries, it says equal application of food safety measures can improve global food safety.
Li Changjiang, China's top quality control official, said the declaration itself is a fruit of international collaboration.
He said the agreement will be regarded as "the important principle for everyone to observe in future efforts to intensify cooperation in international food safety".
Figures from China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine show that in the first half of the year, 99.1 percent of Chinese food exported to the United States and 99.8 percent of the exports to the European Union were up to standard.
Japanese figures also suggest that 99.42 percent of Chinese food sold to Japan last year was safe, higher than percentages for food imported from the EU and the US.