About Food Safety

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The First FAO/WHO/AU International Food Safety Conference was held in ADDIS ABABA, 12–13 February 2019. The Conference included technical panel presentations and discussions as well as ministerial panels involving Health, Trade and Agriculture officials and experts to address key food safety issues and strategic actions. Discussions focused on sharing perspectives, emerging problems and best practice examples.
The thematic sessions covered were:
The burden of foodborne diseases and the benefits of investing in safe food;
Safe and sustainable food systems in an era of accelerated climate change;
Science, innovation and digital transformation at the service of food safety;
Empowering consumers to make healthy choices and support sustainable food systems.
As the issue of Food Safety is a burning one for Ethiopia as well and considering the role the private sector plays, I quote below from background material prepared for the session on the burden of foodborne diseases and the benefits of investing in safe food and more specifically on the issue of LEVERAGING PRIVATE SECTOR INVESTMENT FOR SAFE VALUE CHAINS.
“Although the developments in food systems have yielded many positive results over the past three decades in developing countries, the associated structural transformations have also resulted in significant challenges, including increased incidence of food safety issues. In a context characterized by poor infrastructure, lack of packaging and other inputs, lack of technical expertise, inadequate policies and weak institutional support, a substantial infusion of fixed investment and working capital will be required if small and medium agro-industries are to fully exploit market opportunities. Private sector investment along the value chain is motivated by expected returns relative to perceived risk and uncertainty. One of the key determinants of private sector investment in agribusiness is therefore the availability of adequate and well-tailored financial services, which allow the private sector to manage and cope with risks and fund investments, including those required for ensuring food safety along the value chain. Public-private partnerships can also serve as a mechanism for risk sharing with the public sector to lower the barriers to entry for the private sector. However, the importance of transparency cannot be overemphasized and the role of civil society in maintaining public confidence in the integrity and value of such partnerships is an important consideration.
Private actors – from small holders, small and medium agro-enterprises, large national and international agribusiness companies, and financial institutions – require an enabling in related medical expenses each year. Yet a large proportion of these costs could be avoided by adopting preventive measures that improve how food is handled from farm to fork. The economic cost of unsafe food varies across countries according to their level of economic development. This variation is linked to the complex interplay of a wide range of economic, demographic, dietary, and environmental health factors. At country-level it is important to recognize the need for effective investment, a better understanding of the cost of reducing the burden of unsafe food, and the achievable impact on the country’s food security, public health, and economy. Any food safety standards that are developed and implemented (inter)nationally have associated costs for governments, industry and consumers. Nonetheless, the economic benefit and public health cost reduction resulting from reliable food safety systems outweigh the cost of food safety investment. Governments, in particular in low-and middle-income countries, not only need to invest more in food safety, but also invest more strategically. This means investing in foundational knowledge, human resources, and infrastructure; realizing synergies among investments in food safety, human health, and environmental protection; and using public investment to leverage private investment. A transparent and constructive dynamic between food safety authorities and the food industry is fundamental in enabling public confidence in the food supply. The assurance of reliable and effective enforcement of regulation is fundamental to building a credible system. However, it is important that countries consciously seek a productive balance between enforcement and facilitation and support to value chain actors to meet requirements. environment to achieve their full potential. The public sector needs to put in place a set of enabling policies and provide public goods that create the enabling environment to foster private sector investment. The public sector can also support clustering of agribusinesses within specific geographic areas (e.g. technology parks) with assured infrastructure and access to output and input markets. Investment flows into value chains in which small-holder producers and processors are involved (e.g. as raw material suppliers) can be stimulated by improving coordination in the chain through strengthening groups that bring these actors together, while also building their technical and managerial capacity to meet market requirements.
In previous decades, government and donor investments in food safety in low and middle-income countries often focused on exports and formal sector food production and retail. This was driven by the economic benefits of export and the belief that modernization of the food system would improve productivity and deliver safer food and more benefits to workers. While both export sectors and formal food businesses remain key to many
countries’ development strategies, recent years have seen increasing evidence of the huge health and economic burdens falling on domestic consumers who primarily access food, especially perishable, higher-nutrient produce, from informal outlets and distribution channels. A broad-based food safety strategy is needed which gives balanced attention to trade and domestic matters, and, for the latter, covering food safety risks in formal and informal markets. Food safety has complex bidirectional linkages with nutrition, livelihoods and equity. For example, unsafe food is associated with stunting and malnutrition and predisposes people to gastro-intestinal illness and affects the most vulnerable people who have limited food choices and often rely on informal markets. Concerns about food safety may push people away from fresh produce and towards low-nutrient, highly processed foods, with adverse long-term health consequences. In low and middle -income countries, hundreds of millions of people, many of them women, depend on food production, processing, and retail for their livelihoods. Wherever possible, food safety interventions should act to secure rather than threaten these livelihoods.”

For more background reading:
https://www.who.int/food-safety/international-food-safety-conference/background-documents/
Ton Haverkort