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Food safety experts are meeting in Dublin, Ireland this week to discuss international standards they hope will cut back on the rising number of infections caused by the deadly enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli bacteria.

Representatives from UN bodies and member countries that make up the Codex Alimentarius committee on food hygiene are considering the need for standards to control EHEC. The five-day meeting began yesterday, reports Ahmed El-Amin.

“We are seeing a worldwide increase in the number of people infected with these dangerous pathogens, particularly E coli O157,” stated Dr. Peter Ben Embarek of the World Health Organisation. Sarah Cahill, a representative from the Food and Agriculture Organization, said legal costs arising from just one outbreak in the US amounted to a payout by one manufacturer of $30 million.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission sets standards aimed at helping international food trade by eliminating many of what the UN calls "unjustified technical barriers" set up by some countries. The body is a joint venture of the FAO and the WHO. Once brought into effect, the standards are voluntary. However many countries incorporate them into national legislation. They also apply to safety controls used to regulate international food trade.

EHEC can cause a range of symptoms, some of which can lead to death. Infection with EHEC may also lead to further complications, most notably hemolytic uremic syndrome, the most common cause of kidney failure in young children.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland is hosting the meeting in Dublin following a recent increase in the country of cases of EHEC infection. John O’Brien, FSAI’s chief executive, said the meeting will highlight the threat posed by the spread of EHEC.

"An effective risk management strategy is required to halt the spread of these harmful bacteria in the food chain and the aim of the meeting is to put such measures in place,” O’Brien stated.

Codex Alimentarius standards form the basis of food legislation in many countries and are recognized as international benchmarks by one of the multilateral agreements of the UN World Trade Organization.

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