Supporting initiatives to enhance food safety across the continent was the focus of an African Food Safety Workshop jointly held by the IAEA, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the National Metrology Institute of South Africa (NMISA).
Over 280 experts and researchers from 43 countries’ food safety regulators, food testing laboratories, food manufacturers, and governmental and non-governmental organizations, shared experiences on vital topics, such as preventing food fraud, monitoring of radionuclides, use of radio receptor assays and stable isotopic techniques for veterinary drug and pesticides residues, as well as mycotoxins, toxic metals and biotoxins. Participants also addressed responding to food borne illnesses and disease outbreaks, setting maximum residue limits, and implementing effective food monitoring and surveillance programmes.
“This workshop showed the commitment of the African continent not just to increase food safety and trade nationally and in the region, but to support achieving several Sustainable Development Goals, including good health and well-being, industry, innovation and infrastructure as well as ending poverty and hunger,” said Shaukat Abdulrazak, Director of the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation Division for Africa. “African Union leadership and various stakeholders across the continent discussed cross-cutting food safety issues and had a common voice on strategies for supporting the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, addressing food trade rejections, and ensuring consumer protection and food security.”
During the five-day event held in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 27 June to 1 July 2022, participants discussed the benefits of ISO accreditation for food safety and international trade; ways of collecting scientifically reliable data on levels of food hazards, such as mycotoxins, drug and pesticide residues, persistent pollutants, toxic metals and microplastics; and how to develop regionally-tailored laboratory testing and reference material, which could enable countries to provide better analytical services.
“We need to build institutional excellence, which would lead to more ISO accreditation for laboratory services,” said Ndwakhulu Mukhufhi, Chief Executive Officer at NMISA. “This can be achieved by sharing relevant reference material and conducting training programmes. Institutions such as NMISA are here to support.”
Participants agreed that there was a need throughout the region to increase food safety awareness among the general public. They also agreed that capabilities and mechanisms for setting food safety standards should be strengthened, including maximum residue limits, and that it was important to embrace a One Health approach to food safety in Africa.
“Establishing and promoting networks is a top priority,” said Liang Qu, Director of the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre for Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture. “Networks and such events offer Member States a platform to share knowledge and experiences on food safety. Leveraging the advantages of nuclear science, the Joint Centre will continue to serve as a mechanism to transfer relevant technology, addressing current and emerging food safety and trade issues.”
The workshop coincided with the launch of the Food Safety Strategy for Africa (2022-2036) by the African Union Development Agency, aimed at improving public health, food and nutrition security, sustainable livelihoods and economic growth. The African Union had already laid out a roadmap to strengthen its member countries’ capabilities in the area of food safety in its 2019-launched Sanitary and Phytosanitary Policy Framework for Africa.
“Incorporating the policy framework and the strategy into regional economic communities and Member States’ long term strategies and frameworks is crucial for sustainable financing and implementation,” added Godfrey Bahiigwa, Director of the African Union’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.