10 September 201910 min reading

What makes food safety unique and different from other areas of public health is its multisectoral nature. Food safety is fundamentally multidisciplinary. It cuts across different sectors such as health, agriculture, fisheries, industry, trade, environment, tourism, education, and economy. Food safety must be integrated along the entire food chain, from farm to table, with the diffirent sectors: government, farmers, food companies and consumers and taking advantage of public-private partnerships…Consumers are increasingly demanding information about their food to make informed consumption choices. In that contex, digitalization and information technology will have a profound impact on food standards.

The sharp increases in food prices that occurred in global and national markets in recent years, and the resulting increases in the number of hungry and malnourished people, have sharpened the awareness of policy-makers and of the general public to the fragility of the global food system. By 2050 the world’s population will reach 9.1 billion, 34 percent higher than today. Nearly all of this population increase will occur in developing countries. Urbanization will continue at an accelerated pace, and about 70 percent of the world’s population will be urban compared to 49 percent today. Income levels will be many multiples of what they are now.

In order to feed this larger, more urban and richer population, food production must increase by 70 percent. Annual cereal production will need to rise to about 3 billion tonnes from 2.1 billion today and annual meat production will need to rise by over 200 million tonnes to reach 470 million tonnes.

An important matter that should be addressed when dealing with food security is food safety. Its not an exaggeration to say there is no food security without food safety. Improving food safety is an essential element of improving food security, which exists when populations have access to sufficient and healthy food. People’s access to and consumption of food, which is the main subject of food security, makes sense if the food is healthy.

Enhanced food safety is key to improvements in health and nutrition, which is the ultimate goal of enhanced food security. Improvements in food availability will not benefit many of those at nutritional risk without corresponding improvements in the nutritional quality and safety of food as well as a reduction in food- and water-borne illness. At the same time, as food trade expands throughout the world, food safety has become a shared concern among both developed and developing countries.

With an estimated 600 million cases of foodborne illnesses annually, unsafe food is a threat to human health and economies globally. Nearly one in ten people fall ill every year from eating contaminated food, with 420 000 dying as a result and low-income areas most affected. Children aged under 5 are at particularly high risk, accounting for one third of the deaths even though they make up only 9 percent of the population. Foodborne diseases in low- and middle-income countries costs at least US$100 billion a year, with this cost exceeding US$500 million for 28 countries, according to a recent World Bank study. Ongoing changes in climate, global food production and supply systems affect consumers, industry and the planet itself: food safety systems need to keep pace with these changes. The burden of unsafe food disproportionally affects vulnerable and marginalized people and poses sustainability and development challenges. Despite the growing recognition of the fundamental role food safety plays in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the main objectives of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition, efforts to strengthen food safety systems remain fragmented and the gains, particularly in many developing countries, have been well below expectations.

THE DANGER OF UNSAFE FOOD Unsafe food is a major social and development challenge and public health cannot be improved if the food reaching the consumer is not safe. Food safety must therefore be high on the public health agenda, especially for developing countries, where food safety can be one of the most significant challenges for access to export markets. The World Food Safety Day established by the United Nations in December last year and celebrated this 7th of June is an international observance which provides a unique opportunity to draw attention to this paramount aspect of our daily lives. To prevent, identify, manage and control foodborne risks is key to guaranteeing safe food for everybody, everywhere as well as to maintaining fair practices in the food trade.

Unsafe food contains hazardous agents, or contaminants, that can make people sick—either immediately or by increasing their risk of chronic disease. Such contaminants can enter food at many different points in the food production process, and can occur naturally or as the result of poor or inadequate production practices. Hazardous agents that are receiving attention from policymakers include microbial pathogens, zoonotic diseases, parasites, mycotoxins, antibiotic drug residues, and pesticide residues.

FOOD SAFETY IS A SHARED RESPONSIBILITY What makes food safety unique and different from other areas of public health is its multisectoral nature. Food safety is fundamentally multidisciplinary. It cuts across different sectors such as health, agriculture, fisheries, industry, trade, environment, tourism, education, and economy. Food safety must be integrated along the entire food chain, from farm to table, with the diffirent sectors: government, farmers, food companies and consumers and taking advantage of public-private partnerships.

It also crosses across national borders. Food produced in one country today can, within 24 hours, be on the other side of the planet and on its way to shops, restaurants and homes. Food safety is a shared responsibility. That’s why the theme of World Food Safety Day for this year was “Food safety is everyone’s business”. The management of food safety requires a comprehensive and inclusive approach to be effective. Therefore, the world needs a mechanism for investing in food safety in a sustainable way, adapted to national and regional circumstances. Coordination between all relevant agencies within government as well as with stakeholders from the entire food supply chain is essential.

Recent trends in global food production, processing, distribution, and preparation are creating a growing demand by consumers for effective, coordinated, and proactive national food safety systems. Those programs are essential to protect consumer health and protect national economies from trade disruptions. Food safety programs should: • cover the entire food chain from production to consumption • take into account both naturally occurring, and deliberate threats of contamination • consider national, regional, and international specificities and requirements • involve consumers and be transparent.

INNOVATION AND DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION AT THE SERVICE OF FOOD SAFETY The use of new technologies in the realm of food safety and trade; how trade in safe food can be facilitated at the borders; multi-stakeholder coordination and harmonizing food safety regulation are the challenges and opportunities arising from rapid technological change and digitalization. The advance of science and technology is one of the most important drivers of change at the nexus of food standards and trade. New technologies continue to be developed for application to production, processing and handling of food. Food safety governance of these novel technologies and processes must keep pace with their development. There continues to be rapid advancement in diagnostic tools.

Consumers are increasingly demanding information about their food to make informed consumption choices. In that contex, digitalization and information technology will have a profound impact on trade and food standards.

SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEMS Agriculture is a dominant force behind many environmental threats, including climate change, land scarcity and degradation, freshwater scarcity, biodiversity loss, degradation of forest and fishery resources, and contamination from agricultural chemicals. The crop and livestock sectors use 70 percent of freshwater resources and, together with forestry, occupy 60 percent of the Earth’s land surface. Livestock alone uses 80 percent of global crop and pasture area. Approximately 60 percent of the world’s ecosystems are degraded or used unsustainably, which poses serious threats to food security and nutrition.

By definition, sustainable food systems produce nutritious diets for all people today while also protecting the capacity of future generations to feed themselves. Sustainable food systems use resources efficiently at every stage along the way from farm to fork. Getting the most food from every drop of water, plot of land, speck of fertilizer and minute of labour saves resources for the future and makes systems more sustainable. Turning waste products like manure and food scraps into valuable fertilizer or energy can improve sustainability.

Pests and diseases damage crops and animals, and reduce the quantity and quality of food available for humans. Using safe and effective methods to control these losses in production, processing and storage helps make food systems more sustainable. Consumers can do their part by choosing balanced diets and minimizing food waste. Outputs of the sustainable food systems contributes to food security by ensuring availability of food with production, distribution and exchange; access to food with purchasing power and marketing; food utilization with nutritive value, social value and security.

Safe food production improves sustainability by providing access and efficiency to the market, which ensures economic development and poverty reduction, especially in rural areas. The investment in consumer food safety education has the potential to reduce foodborne diseases and save up to $ 10 per dollar invested. Ensuring food safety is therefore the key to achieving many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. To comply with global food standards, to establish effective regulatory food control systems including emergency preparedness and response, to provide access to clean water, to implement good agricultural practices, to strengthen the use of food safety management systems by food processors and to increase the capacity of consumers to make healthy food choices are the necessary solutions to ensure food security. Those measures needs to be considered and implemented as a joint responsibility between governments, producers and consumers.


[box type="note" align="alignleft" class="" width="500"]By 2029, food security is projected to improve in 76 low- and middle-income countries

In 2019, 19.3 percent of the 3.8 billion people in 76 low- and middle-income countries are projected to be food insecure, meaning they do not have access to sufficient food for an active and healthy lifestyle. By 2029, their food security situation is projected to improve, leaving 9.2 percent food insecure (assuming rising per-capita incomes, stable or declining food prices, and no new major crises).

USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) recently released the annual International Food Security Assessment 2019-2029, in which they assess the food security status and outlook for 76 low- and middle-income countries that are former or current food aid recipients. This report presents the number of food-insecure people, the share of the population that is food insecure, and the food gap projected for 2019 and 2029 based on projected food price and income changes. The ERS food security indicators are forward-looking and provide a measure of expected progress in food security. The share of populations experiencing food insecurity is not spread evenly across the regions and countries included in the study. Projections of food insecurity in the 22 Asian and 11 Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries show it is relatively low at 13.9 and 17.4 percent compared to Sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA) 35.3 percent. This regional disparity is projected to widen by 2029. Sub-Saharan Africa, while expected to improve, is still projected to have 22.5 percent of its population classified as food insecure.

Several countries are projected to not make significant progress in their food security situation. For these countries, income growth prospects are poor, and food prices are expected to remain relatively high due to ongoing armed conflicts or recent devastation from natural disasters, which tend to displace a large portion of the population and disrupt economic and agricultural activities. This results in limited access to food and increased food insecurity. For example, most of Yemen remains food insecure, and repeated port closures hinder food imports. Over half the populations in Central Africa and parts of East Africa are projected to be food insecure in 2029, following years of civil conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.[/box]

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