Every year, around 600 million people get sick and 420 000 people die from unsafe food that has been contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, and chemicals.
Illness linked to unsafe food overloads healthcare systems and damages economies, trade and tourism. The impact of unsafe food costs low- and middle-income economies around $95 billion in lost productivity each year.
Unsafe food is a threat to human health and economies worldwide and greater international cooperation is needed to prevent unsafe food from causing illness and hampering progress towards sustainable development.
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.
This is the key area of discussion in the ongoing International Food Safety Conference, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where leaders across the globe have met to push for the call on greater international cooperation in preventing unsafe food from causing ill health and hampering progress towards sustainable development.
The First International Food Safety Conference has been organized by the African Union (AU), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO).
“The partnership between the African Union and the United Nations has been longstanding and strategic,” said African Union Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat. “This food safety conference is a demonstration of this partnership. Without safe foods, it is not possible to achieve food security,” he said.
Around 130 countries are participating in the two-day conference, including ministers of agriculture, health, and trade. Leading scientific experts, partner agencies and representatives of consumers, food producers, civil society organizations and the private sector are also taking part.
The aim of the conference is to identify key actions that will ensure the availability of, and access to, safe food now and in the future. This will require a strengthened commitment at the highest political level to scale up food safety in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Technological advances, digitalization, novel foods, and 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 globalization of food production, coupled with a growing global population and increasing urbanization, pose new challenges to food safety. Food systems are becoming even more complex and interlinked, blurring lines of regulatory responsibility.
Solutions to these potential problems require intersectoral and concerted international action.
Food safety systems need to keep pace with the way food is produced and consumed. This requires sustained investment and coordinated, multi-sectoral approaches for regulatory legislation, suitable laboratory capacities, and adequate disease surveillance and food monitoring programmes, all of which need to be supported by information technologies, shared information, training, and education.