April 17, 2024


Food never sleeps.

Coalition to focus on food safety at UN Food Systems Summit

5 min read

A coalition dedicated to food safety has been unveiled at a session of the United Nations Food Systems pre-Summit.

The summit, planned for September, has five action tracks with the first one about ensuring access to safe and nutritious food for all. The pre-summit took place across three days at the end of July.

The launch was announced by Pawan Agarwal and Delia Grace, in the session moderated by Caroline Smith DeWaal, deputy director at EatSafe at Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, that had more than 160 people in attendance.

The Coalition for Action for Safe Food for All is still in formation but will be managed by Bonnie McClafferty at the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN).

Five ideas put forward
Agarwal, former CEO of the Food Safety and Standards Authority India, spoke about five ideas including a global food safety indicator, a food safety index, and a network for innovation and capacity building.

Pawan Agarwal

“Our goals we are targeting for 2030 are to reduce the incidence of foodborne disease per million people or to mitigate increases. The numbers we are still working out. Also, a balanced framing of food safety, not only considering the high value formal sector products meant for export but foods consumed by low and middle income domestic populations and focussed on the informal sector.”

Agarwal said the best indicators are outcome indicators.

“Since food safety in many countries is still evolving, capacity and performance measurement can become a good tool to inspire action from national governments to focus more attention on food safety, to invest and provide staff. Food safety is not getting the attention it deserves and this is an opportunity to bring it to the center stage. The focus has to be on low and middle income countries, fresh food, wet markets and informal settings,” he said.

Delia Grace, program lead food safety and zoonoses at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), said what cannot be measured, will not be managed.

“At the moment we know foodborne disease is not being measured or managed very well. We have three key tools, one is an index that will act as a benchmark and a way of measuring progress. It will also be a way of motivating consumers when they see how their country is performing, they will put pressure on decision makers to do better. A food safety knowledge platform will help generate that evidence, improve surveillance and understanding of the multiple burdens and a global network of interested people will come together to discuss and share,” she said.

The second area of focus looks at how to better manage food safety.

“It has three components, one is a solutions center where we bring together the best solutions available so people can find them in a 1-stop shop. The second is an innovations facility which offers the ability to develop new or adapt existing innovations especially for low and middle income countries where the burden falls and then a toolbox where solutions and innovations are translated into use by governments, the private sector, civil society and consumers,” said Grace.

Link with nutrition and evidence gaps
Meghan Rhodes, acting director of the Center of Nutrition in the Bureau for Resilience and Food Security, USAID, said the consequences of poor food safety practices and the impact on nutrition outcomes cannot be ignored.

Meghan Rhodes

“The negative effects of unsafe food make it impossible to achieve our nutrition targets. If we consider that diarrhoeal diseases are the number one cause of infant mortality and up to 70 percent of diarrhoeal diseases are caused by unsafe food and water we can see the clear danger to children of unsafe food,” she said.

“The good news is there is a growing body of evidence on effective interventions to increase food safety. There are still evidence gaps and these are important to close as we think about development outcomes. We need to understand better the links between food safety and climate change.

“One of the evidence gaps is about scaling, so we have a growing evidence base on which policies, practices and technologies should be scaled but we need to learn more about how to scale in different contexts. We need to understand what factors contribute to improved food safety in informal markets and apply that in different environments. We know consumers can play a role in driving improved food safety management but that requires new evidence to translate into meaningful policy recommendations.”

Food safety indicator work
Steve Wearne, vice chair of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, said too often food safety is taken for granted but it remains a serious problem.

“The challenge is always in translation of Codex standards, guidelines and codes of practice into action in a range of national settings given their varying capacities. Our shared goal must be to advance food safety, especially in low and middle income countries and informal markets,” he said.

Caroline Emond, director general of the International Dairy Federation, which is participating in the coalition, said it would raise awareness about the importance of food safety: “Good food safety is essential to guarantee public health, to strengthen trust between the consumer, farmers and the food chain and to reduce food loss and waste.”

Luz Maria De-Regil, Unit Head, Multisectoral Actions in Food Systems at the World Health Organization, said the agency is developing an SDG indicator on food safety.

“It has been a hard task trying to find the right indicator as food safety includes many things. It is not only an indicator, it is the associated target, how much do we want to advance? An outcome indicator is being proposed in the food safety strategy that is a 40 percent reduction of diarrhea due to foodborne diseases between now and 2030,” she said.

“We have received a lot of feedback in terms of is it feasible and is it enough? The fact we are having this conversation is really good as now we know if countries are behind we can improve surveillance systems. However, we are conscious it is not the only thing and the strategy is proposing two process indicators that are already collected by the international health regulations which is the availability of surveillance systems and whether there are coordination mechanisms to establish these connections.”

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