The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have joined forces and highlighted that food safety is a shared responsibility in which everyone has a role to play, from governments, industry and producers to business operators and consumers
The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a spotlight on the importance of monitoring and addressing food safety; adapting food safety systems to respond to supply chain disruptions; and ensuring the continued access to safe food.
Towards achieving safe food
Safe food is not only critical to better health and food security, but also for livelihoods, economic development, trade and the international reputation of every country.
“Millions of people around the world depend on international trade for their food security and livelihoods”, the heads of FAO, QU Dongyu, WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Roberto Azevedo, the World Trade Organization (WTO) said in a joint statement.
“As countries move to enact measures aiming to halt the accelerating COVID-19 pandemic, care must be taken to minimise potential impacts on the food supply or unintended consequences on global trade and food security.”
“Improving hygiene practices in the food and agricultural sectors helps to reduce the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance along the food chain and in the environment”, they explained.
Emphasising the need for better data to understand the far-reaching impacts of unsafe food, WHO and FAO upheld that an investment in consumer food safety education has the potential to reduce foodborne disease and return savings of up to ten-fold for each dollar provided.
“We must ensure that our response to COVID-19 does not unintentionally create unwarranted shortages of essential items and exacerbate hunger and malnutrition”, the FAO, WHO, WTO chiefs stated. “Now is the time to show solidarity, act responsibly and adhere to our common goal of enhancing food security, food safety and nutrition and improving the general welfare of people around the world”.
Infections caused by contaminated food have a much higher impact on populations with poor or fragile health, impacting infants, pregnant women and elderly and sick people more severely, and sometimes even leading to death, according to WHO.
Meanwhile, throughout the various stages of today’s complex supply chains, opportunities for food contamination prevail, from on-farm production to slaughtering or harvesting and during the course of processing, storage, transport and distribution.
The effects of food contamination reach far beyond direct public health consequences. It undermines food exports, tourism, food handler livelihoods and economic development, in both developed and developing countries.
To improve food safety, WHO advocates for different governmental departments and agencies – encompassing public health, agriculture, education and trade – to collaborate with each other as well as to engage civil society, including consumer groups.