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It’s Time to Elevate Food Safety on the Development Agenda

  
SIMEON EHUI

Director of the World Bank’s Food and Agriculture Global Practice

 

 

This blog was originally posted on World Bank Blogs on June 5, 2019: https://blogs.worldbank.org/voices/its-time-to-elevate-food-safety-development-agenda  

 

On June 7th, the world celebrates the first World Food Safety Day. What does this day mean for you?    

 
For me, it’s a day to remember that everyone in the food supply chain has a role to play to make sure that the food we eat is safe. It’s time to shine the spotlight on the debilitating costs of inaction on domestic food safety.  Human capital in Africa as elsewhere is dependent on the survival of children to age five, the level of education they attain and whether they are healthy enough for further learning and work.  We also know that the majority of those who die from food borne disease (FBD) in Africa are children under five. These costs of FBD are largely hidden, but we cannot eradicate extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity if what’s being consumed by millions of poor and vulnerable is not safe. If it’s not safe, it’s not food!   
 
I was recently in Addis Ababa for the launch of the Global Food Safety Partnership’s (GFSP) report Food Safety in Africa: Past Endeavors and Future Directions. The report’s authors analyzed more than 500 projects and activities in sub-Saharan Africa since 2010 and found that the majority of projects focused on food safety for exports. While exports are crucial for economies, the African continent suffers the world’s worst levels of food safety, causing human capital losses of an estimated $16.7 billion a year in Africa. 
 
I want to emphasize three take-aways from the report. They are:
 
1. Health first: Governments and donors need to prioritize investments to better address the public health of domestic consumers dependent on informal markets. Today, in Africa foodborne illnesses claim an estimated 137,000 lives a year, according to figures from the World Health Organization (WHO). Globally, foodborne disease has a public health burden similar to malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.
2. Risk-based: Build capacity for well governed, evidence-and risk-based food safety systems.
3. Market-led: Empower consumers and the private sector with information and responsibility so that they can demand and contribute to safer food. 
 
Today we are producing and consuming more food than ever before. Yet unsafe food is killing us. Let us not forget that food safety is a pre-condition for food security. It is linked, directly or indirectly, to the achievement of many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially those pertaining to ending hunger and poverty, and promoting good health and well-being. Food and nutritional security are realized only when essential elements of a healthy diet are safe to eat. 
 
Safe food is also vital to the growth and transformation of agriculture needed to feed a growing and more prosperous world population, the modernization of national food systems, and a country’s favorable integration into regional and international markets.
 
At the “Food Safety in Africa” launch, participants agreed we need more data to focus the conversation on practical solutions. But we know enough to understand the urgency of action. 
 
Africa is not alone in facing this food safety challenge.  According to “The Safe Food Imperative” published by the World Bank last fall, productivity losses are also astronomical at a global level: losses associated with foodborne disease in low and middle-income countries is estimated to cost $95.2 billion per year, and the annual cost of treating foodborne illnesses is estimated at $15 billion.  Overall, the public health and domestic economic costs of unsafe food are 20 times the trade related costs for developing countries. 
 
It's time to invest more to alleviate the public health consequences of food borne illness for domestic consumers everywhere. Food safety is a shared responsibility.
 

The future of the food system is critical to the long-term well-being of Africa and its people, and for the global food system to be a successful provider, the food must be safe.

Yet, Africa has the world’s highest per capita incidence of foodborne illness, claiming 137,000 lives a year and causing 91 million cases of sickness, according to the World Health Organization. The heaviest burden falls on children under the age of five.

A new report by the Global Food Safety Partnership analyses donor investment in more than 500 projects undertaken in sub-Saharan Africa since 2010 to make important recommendations for providing safe food for Africans.

The central message is clear: it is time for greater investment and a strategic, risk-based approach that targets the health of African consumers, and harnesses consumer awareness and market forces to drive progress on food safety. Food safety is the next frontier of food and nutrition security in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Global Food Safety Partnership report, Food Safety in Africa: Past Endeavors and Future Directions, is the first-ever analysis of investment in food safety in sub-Saharan Africa. The report will be useful for African governments, donors, development partners and the private sector in their quest to improve food safety and reduce the public health burden of unsafe food. The report will be available on the GFSP website at the launch of the report. Stay tuned for more details about the report and its launch.

GFSP is Extending Our Impact to Africa

GFSP's new initiative to map food safety capacity building in sub-Saharan Africa to help improve targeting and coordination is discussed in detail in a new blog authored by GFSP consultant Michael Taylor. This content was originally posted on the Global Food Safety Initiative blog.

On May 24, 2017, GFSP CEO Lystra N. Antoine joined food safety colleagues in Brussels to discuss the vastly underestimated burden of foodborne disease in low and middle-Income Countries and its likely causes. The discussion was convened by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Leading decision makers and change agents from government, the private sector, and multilateral organizations across Asia came together in New Delhi, India on May 17, 2017 as part of a high-level dialogue convened by  by the Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP) in collaboration with the 

PRESS STATEMENT

New Delhi (17, May 2017) — Decision-makers and leading influencers from the public and private sectors across South Asia have signalled their intent to support increased investments in food safety, as part of a high-level dialogue convened by the Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP) in collaboration with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

Matt Kovac, Executive Director of Food Industry Asia (FIA) and a GFSP Governing Council Member, presented the GFSP at the APEC Food Safety Cooperation Forum (FSCF) and the Partnership Training Institute Network (PTIN) in Hanoi, Vietnam, on May 12 and 13, 2017.

A delegation of Indian government officials led by Dr. Narayan Bhaskar from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) with representation from the Export Inspection Council (EIC) and the Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (CIFT) were in Canada on April 18-19, 2017 at the invitation of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to visit CFIA headquarters and CFIA laboratories to discuss and exchange information regarding laboratory management and operation of a national laboratory network.

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), a member of the GFSP Governing Council, is supporting the Republic of the Union of Myanmar to upgrade its National Quality Infrastructure (NQI), which will help to increase export competitiveness, stimulate trade and export-led growth, and foster the development of value-added food products and the diversification of export market opportunities.

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