Greater international cooperation is needed to prevent unsafe food from causing ill health and hampering progress towards sustainable development, said world leaders during the first International Food Safety Conference in Addis Ababa, organized by the African Union, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organization, and the World Trade Organization (WTO). The conference took place February 12-13.
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 in Geneva (April 23-24). The two meetings are expected to galvanize support and lead to actions in the key areas that are strategic for the future of food safety.
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.
“The partnership between the African Union and the United Nations has been longstanding and strategic,” said Moussa Faki Mahamat, African Union Commission chairperson. “This food safety conference is a demonstration of this partnership. Without safe foods, it is not possible to achieve food security.”
“There is no food security without food safety,” agreed José Graziano da Silva, director-general, FAO, 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,” he said.
“Food should be a source of nourishment and enjoyment, not a cause of disease or death,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general, World Health Organization. “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 globalized world, food safety is everyone’s issue.”
“Food safety is a central element of public health and will be crucial in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals,” said Roberto Azevedo, director-general, WTO. “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,” he added.
Around 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 organizations, 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.