International agencies call for joint cooperation to boost food safety

ETHIOPIA – World leaders during the recently held First International Food Safety in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia called for increased international cooperation to boost food safety as an integral aspect of sustainable development.

The conference was organised by the African Union (AU), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The conference, which attracted representatives from around 130 countries, was aimed at identifying the key actions that must be taken to ensure safe food, with a focus on teamwork among higher political levels.

Speaking during the event, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General at WHO, called for more investments and an integrative approach towards realising food safety.

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“Food should be a source of nourishment and enjoyment, not a cause of disease or death.

Unsafe food is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths every year, but has not received the political attention it deserves.

Ensuring people have access to safe food takes sustained investment in stronger regulations, laboratories, surveillance and monitoring,” said Dr. Tedros.

According to WHO, food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins or chemicals causes subsequent illness to more than 600 million people and deaths of 420 000 people worldwide every year.

WHO said the impact of unsafe food costs low- and middle-income economies around US$95 billion in lost productivity each year.

“Because of these threats, food safety must be a paramount goal at every stage of the food chain, from production to harvest, processing, storage, distribution, preparation and consumption, conference participants stressed

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Solutions to these potential problems require inter-sectoral and concerted international action,” it said.

According to WHO, food safety is one of the most important issues its member states need to address  and has henceforth recommended laws, regulations and other policy moves for foodborne illness surveillance, monitoring, emergency preparedness and finances as interventions.  

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said that the conference presented “a great opportunity for the international community to strengthen political commitments and engage in key actions. Safeguarding our food is a shared responsibility. We must all play our part.”

Despite dynamics in food processing, handling, preservation, packaging and storage, technological advancements in processing methods provide a wealth of opportunities to simultaneously enhance food safety and improve nutrition, livelihoods and trade.

At the same time, climate change and the globalisation of food production, coupled with a growing global population and increasing urbanization, pose new challenges to food safety.

WHO said food systems are becoming even more complex and interlinked, blurring lines of regulatory responsibility?

A follow-up event, the FAO/WHO/WTO International Forum on Food Safety and Trade, will be held in Geneva, Switzerland, 23-24 April 2019, focusing on the trade-related aspects and challenges of food safety.

The two meetings are expected to reinforce and lead to actions in the key areas that are strategic for the future of food safety.

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