Developing countries have been urged to move quickly on the life-saving issues of food safety and quality. Speaking yesterday at the opening of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, Gro Harlem Brundtland, director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Hartwig de Haen, assistant director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), stressed that the situation is urgent, as two million children die annually from contaminated food and water in developing countries.

The week-long meeting of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a joint WHO-FAO standards body that deals with the entire US$400bn international food industry, has been attended by the majority of the 165 member countries adhering to the statues of the voluntary code. Delegates are expected to discuss the pressing issue of falling consumer confidence in food safety, alongside matters such as GM and organic food and labelling, food additives and contaminants.

Brundtland, former Norwegian prime minister, commented: "Governments across the globe are increasingly finding themselves urgently in need of upgrading their domestic food safety systems. In many developing countries, however, there is often no comprehensive food safety system in place to restructure in the first place.

"[Helping developing countries adopt food safety systems] is a win-win situation," she argued: "Industrial countries will get better reassurances that food imports are safe, while developing countries will improve both domestic food production standards and be able to expand their export markets."