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Giving Food a Health Check - IAEA Supports Food Safety Controls in Chile

10 December 2014
As the world population grows, so does demand for food, leading to an increase in the use of agrochemicals in farming. In most countries these chemicals are an important part of food production. But if they are not used properly, their residues can contaminate food.
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The IAEA works with over 70 countries world-wide to support the use of nuclear and isotopic techniques in their food control systems. One of these countries is Chile.Agriculture is one of the main pillars of Chile’s economy. With its quality wines and extensive food production industries, this South American country is a key player on the global food markets.Foodstuffs, which include fruit, poultry, pork and fish, are now Chile’s 
second most important export commodity.Apart from helping to fuel economic growth in this prospering nation,
agriculture is also a major source of employment for Chileans.Chile's success as a food exporter is partly due to its quality controls.

Food controls are conducted by the National Agricultural and Livestock Service (SAG). These controls ensure that food is safe to eat and meets international food safety standards.Agrochemicals are used worldwide. Problems can occur if they are not used properly. 

Common agrochemicals include pesticides that are used to protect crops and animals from pests and diseases.In the preparation of feed, substances are added to prevent animals from 
getting ill and to improve their diets.Medicines are given to livestock to treat diseases or stop them 
from getting sick.At this busy chicken production facility around 250 000 chickens 
are processed each day for sale  throughout Chile and the world.A SAG team is based at this facility full-time.Veterinarians from SAG take samples from the chickens seven days a week.

Without the necessary certification from SAG, companies like this 
one could not sell their products on domestic or international markets.Certifications can be revoked, production and sales of food stopped 
if standards are not met.

This can hinder food exports and cause financial losses for the companies involved.Samples are brought to SAG's national food quality control laboratory 
on the outskirts of the capital Santiago.  This laboratory uses nuclear and isotopic techniques to analyse over 1 500 samples a year.
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These highly specific methods are capable of detecting minute quantities of contaminants in food in a short time.The IAEA has been supporting this laboratory for 15 years through its
Technical Cooperation Programme and its Joint Division with the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization. Support comes in the form of equipment, training and technical advice.
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Thanks to the IAEA's assistance, this laboratory now has 13 staff members and no longer needs to outsource its work to other laboratories.Food safety problems can occur even with the raw ingredients for 
animal feed. Corn, for example, can contain mycotoxins - these are natural toxins caused by fungi.A method known as radio-receptor assay determines whether these toxins are below levels that could cause health problems in animals and the people who eat them.Meat samples are analysed using chromatography and mass spectrometry.

By measuring stable isotopes in the samples, these techniques can see whether pesticides or pharmaceutical residues are present above the permitted levels.A procedure named atomic absorption spectrometry can measure levels 
of heavy metals, such as lead, arsenic or mercury, in food.

These could come from nature or industry and contaminate animals through their drinking water. Or they could be present in animal feed.The use of pesticides on fruit and vegetables is also carefully controlled in Chile.

The isotopic technique used at this laboratory can analyse 80 different types of these chemicals to show whether they have been overused and could cause health problems.With SAG's seal of approval, Chilean products can be shipped all over the world.Food safety is a global concern for public health and international trade.

Effective food safety controls benefit everyone: the farmers, the producers, the workers  and the consumers.
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© IAEA
Last update: 26 July 2017