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African Experts Meet On Safety Of Imported Food

UN And African Experts Meet On Establishing Safety Of Imported Foods

Two United Nations agencies have convened the first meeting of some 200 experts from 50 African countries to agree on methods of strengthening existing systems to ensure safer food imports, which account for up to 60 per cent of the foodstuff available in parts of the continent.

Foodborne diseases are a particularly serious threat to Africans already weakened from malaria and HIV/AIDS, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), said at the start of the four-day conference in Harare, Zimbabwe yesterday.

“Many African countries do not have adequate food security, resulting in a situation where at least 60 per cent of the food supply is imported to supplement local production,” according to a report prepared for the conference. Because there is no effective food safety regime in many African countries, imported food can add to the risk of widespread food contamination.

Improved food safety would reduce the 2,000 deaths estimated to occur every day in Africa from foodborne and waterborne diseases, the report said, calling on all concerned – including governments, the private sector and consumers – to work towards assuring food safety “from farm to fork.”

With this goal, the conference is expected to discuss an African Strategic Plan of Action for Food Safety in an effort to reduce the threats to public health and international trade caused by food products that fail to meet international quality and safety standards.

The Conference will also discuss prevention and control of mycotoxins in such African staple crops as maize, groundnuts and dried fruits.

“Several devastating outbreaks of foodborne diseases such as cholera, salmonellosis, entero-haemorrhagic Escherichia coli, hepatitis A and acute aflatoxicosis have occurred in a number of African countries recently,” WHO’s Dr Chris Ngenda Mwikisa said. “Already this year 34,000 cases of cholera due to contaminated water and food have been reported in 30 countries with more than 1,000 deaths.”

FAO Assistant Director-General Hartwig de Haen added: “Establishing pan-African food safety standards will not only save lives and improve the health of African people, it will go a long way toward helping Africa join in international trade and raise African living standards, particularly in rural areas where most of the poor are subsisting.”

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