Nations meet to discuss food safety

World leaders attending the first International Food Safety Conference have declared that greater international cooperation is needed to prevent unsafe food from causing ill health and stalling progress towards sustainable development.

The conference, held at Addis Ababa in February, was organised by the African Union (AU), the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins or chemicals causes more than 600 million people to fall ill and 420,000 to die worldwide every year. 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. 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.

“There is no food security without food safety,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva during his remarks.

“This conference is 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. We must work together to scale up food safety in national and international political agendas.”

African Union Commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said the partnership between the AU and the UN has been longstanding and strategic.

“This food safety conference is a demonstration of this partnership. Without safe foods, it is not possible to achieve food security,” he said

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, said: “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. In our globalised world, food safety is everyone’s issue.”

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said: “Food safety is a central element of public health and will be crucial in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Trade is an important force to lift people out of poverty… when we reconvene in Geneva in April we will consider these issues in more depth.”

About 130 countries participated 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 organisations and the private sector are also taking part.

The aim of the conference was 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, the conference concluded.

A follow-up event, the International Forum on Food Safety and Trade, which will focus on interlinkages between food safety and trade, is scheduled to be hosted by WTO at Geneva in April.

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