Assuring adequate and appropriate representation of the consumer view is an important aspect of the consumer integration process. There are many consumer organizations but only a few can serve on formal governmental advisory or technical committees. Therefore, the process of selecting representatives is critical to ensure fair and honest representation of consumers in government policy- and decision-making. While this issue is best resolved locally among consumers, consumer organizations, industry and governments, some criteria were suggested for determining eligibility of consumer representatives. The consumer organization should be independent; its interests and objectives should be judged based on its actions; it should not be narrowly focused and it should be respected and supported by independent or individual consumers. The consumer organization should not be a professional or industry organization and it should promote and protect consumer rights, provide consumer education and benefit consumers as a whole.
A second issue is that of shared, overlapping and redundant responsibilities among multiple food control agencies. This can reduce accountability, waste resources and lessen responsiveness to consumer concerns, especially when interagency competition for jurisdiction and resources dominates the relationship among the food control agencies. The complexities of multiple-agency food control systems become barriers to consumer access to information and redress. Although a single food control agency would be advantageous to consumers, it seems unlikely to become a reality because of the reorganization and restructuring that would be required to create such an entity. However, cooperation and coordination among the food control agencies in a multi-agency food control system are absolutely required to maximize consumer protection.
Of particular concern is the need to establish simple consumer access and redress procedures and to coordinate consumer information and education programmes among food control agencies. The involvement of the consumer in policy- and decision-making procedures in each of the many food control agencies is considered necessary.
In developing countries, food control agencies should concentrate on consumer education to raise the level of awareness and understanding of consumers about food matters and to enhance the integration of their concerns and involvement in food control. Similar educational efforts are necessary for the public media and the food industry, which influence consumer choice and knowledge.
Consumers in many countries are unaware of government objectives and programmes to protect them against poor-quality and unsafe food. They lack knowledge of the efforts by industries to improve food handling and processing practices. They do not know their rights to be involved in the entire process of policy-making in food control. Creating this awareness by providing information and education will greatly enhance and stimulate the interest of consumers to become involved in food control issues. The low level of participation of consumers in food control issues in developing countries is not due to a lack of interest by consumers; it is due to the lack of necessary information and education on these issues.
In developing countries, many food control officials tend to avoid consumer organizations, which they view as antagonistic and not representative of the true concerns of the individual consumer within the country. Frequently, they believe the consumer organizations reflect perceptions of more affluent consumers only. The issues raised by consumer groups may seem irrelevant, and even when they are viewed as important, dealing with them may be beyond the scope or resources of the food control agencies. While establishing a rapport can be difficult, dialogue and cooperation between food control officials and those organizations expressing concern for consumers will greatly assist in resolving common issues of concern through positive action.
The consultation identified several major consumer concerns and agreed that these concerns stem from lack of effective enforcement of the food law and regulations and lack of adequate dialogue with consumers or their representatives. Sustained and concerted action is required to provide better assurance to the consumer. Special steps may be needed to improve awareness of food safety and quality issues as well as the consumers' rights and the mechanisms for seeking redress for grievances. In this effort to improve information and education for the consumer, all parties - the consumer representative, the food industry and the government - have to play an active and vital role.
Factors hindering consumer involvement
The consultation identified the following major barriers to establishing formal channels of communication with consumers and integrating their views in food control policy- and decision-making: lack or inadequacy of an organized consumer movement in the country; consumers' insufficient scientific knowledge and information about food quality and safety issues and regulatory decisions; consumer attitudes, habits and educational levels; and deficiencies in the food control system.
Countries have the common objectives of promoting a safe -and honestly presented food supply and protecting consumers from health hazards and commercial fraud. The achievement of these objectives calls for a food control system based on a basic food law, accompanied by detailed regulations and administered by an efficient food control organization. It is in the enactment of the food legislation that the government must recognize, as a policy, the importance of public participation. It is only through such participation that the industry can share consumer protection obligations with the government and consumers can feel assured that their rights are protected. The basic policy decision to involve consumer and industry interests in food control should be confirmed in the food control law.
The consultation supported the recommendation of a statutory provision for a central advisory or coordinating committee or board to advise on matters arising from the administration of the food act (see FAO/WHO, 1976). The advisory committee or board should be representative of various governmental ministries, industry, consumers, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), academia, etc. whose activities warrant representation at the national level. Many countries already have such a provision. Where this does not exist, industry and consumer inputs are ensured through regulations. Thus, no major policy change or prescription or amendment of a food standard is carried out without giving the representatives of the industry and the consumers an opportunity to comment and provide additional data on the subject.
Food control authorities must encourage an open environment for scientifically based decisions. This calls for thorough preparation on the problem and Its proposed solution, with necessary evidence and scientific data regarding industry/trade practices; potential hazards and benefits to the consumer; socio-cultural issues involved, if any; the economic impact of the proposal at the Individual or the national level, etc. Involvement of consumers, NGOs and industry is particularly vital for proper risk management, which deals with analysis of options and optimum utilization of resources including regulatory and non-regulatory tools such as voluntary compliance, education and organization of training and other field operations. To command respect from industry and consumers alike the integrity of the food control system must be maintained with utmost care and determination and a relationship of trust must be built with the consumer and Industry interest groups in a transparent environment.
Many food control agencies collect considerable. Information on the status of various issues related to food quality, safety and consumer protection, Because these reports may have detrimental effects, food control agencies often refrain from making them public. The consultation agreed that such actions by food control officials do not serve the interest of the consumer or of the food control system. Sometimes through aggressive investigation and reporting by the communications media this information becomes public knowledge anyway. Accountability and public audit of the effectiveness of food control programmes are in the interest of those who are to be protected.
In developed countries, food control systems have focal points for consumer and industry liaison. This has proved to be ah effective approach for communication and coordination of activities of food control with industry and consumer representatives and vice verso. In most cases the focal point is prominent enough to reflect the importance of this activity compared with other functions of the organization
In developing countries, industry and consumer focal points are rare and those that exist are in the early stages of organizational development. Since all developing countries have active programmes for industrial and economic development, the industry support and representation. In government activities is more prominent than consumer support and representation. Within a country's food control authority, an organizational unit for educating, informing and collaborating, coordinating and communicating with industry and the consumer on food control matters should be established. The consultation outlined specific suggestions for such a unit and made the following recommendations.
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