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On World Food Safety Day, Everyone From Growers To Supply Chains To Consumers Must Adopt One Health Approach

More than 600 million people, or 1 in 10, fall ill and 420 000 die each year from eating food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins or chemicals. Most of the deaths are among the poor and young. Low and middle-income countries could save up to USD 95 billion annually with better food safety measures. When food is not safe, it is not food. It does not provide nourishment but instead leads to poor health and stunts human development.

Agriculture and food production are dependent on natural resources. Their inputs such as feed, fertilizers and chemicals contribute to residues in food as well as in the environment. This in turn adversely impacts human, animal, plant and environmental health. Tackling these health hazards such as pesticides, anti-microbial substances, heavy metals, microplastics and many others, requires a system-wide One Health approach, and not one that is specific to each sector alone.

Ensuring access to safe, nutritious food in a global pandemic

For the immediate future, ensuring reliable access to safe, healthy and nutritious food remains one of the highest priorities in the region. While COVID-19 is not transmitted by food, the pandemic has sharpened the focus on food safety-related issues, such as hygiene, antimicrobial resistance, zoonotic diseases, climate change, food fraud and the potential benefits of introducing innovations and new technologies across food systems. It has also identified weaknesses or vulnerabilities in food production and control systems, which need to be addressed through One Health and sustainable food systems approaches.

Bringing everyone to the table through One Health

The Asia and Pacific regional offices of five international organizations – FAO, OIE, UNEP, WFP and WHO – have joined together to promote the One Health approach to food safety and to highlight it on this global day of advocacy.

In the run up to today’s World Food Safety Day, a regional Webinar was held drawing more than 400 participants from 69 countries to the virtual event.

Speakers and participants representing multiple stakeholders – Government, private sector, civil society and academia – agreed that safe food goes hand-in-hand with food security and nutrition. Food safety is essential for the achievement of all SDGs, and needs to be placed at the centre of the global development agenda in order to help recover from the damage inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and particularly as this is the year of the United Nations Food Systems Summit.

Why One Health?

The experts provided their perspectives on how hazards and contaminants across food chains have found their way into food and have affected human, plant, animal and environmental health. This has called for co-ordination in planning and collaboration in the implementation of food safety measures across Government Ministries and agencies. Ensuring adequate delegation to the private sector and wide participation of people at large is essential. This holistic approach recognizes the interconnection and interdependence between the health of people, animals, plants and the environment. Keeping food animals healthy will also minimize the risk of zoonotic pathogens and emergence of antimicrobial resistant organisms and more. Ensuring plant and animal health avoids the risk of spread of trans-boundary diseases which negatively impacts livelihood, trade and economic growth.

At the same time, the experts emphasized that the principal causes of food borne illnesses in the Asia-Pacific region were foodborne pathogens. They also affirmed that heightened hygienic and sanitary measures necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic are expected to have positive knock-on effects on food safety in the longer term.

Food safety within food systems

Food systems encompass societal (people) and natural (environmental) elements and their complex interactions. The ongoing National and Independent Food Systems dialogues in countries across the world is an attempt to bring all participants to the table and engage in meaningful conversations on how to reshape food systems. Incorporating food safety as an indispensable element within them is essential. It needs high-level advocacy and political commitment, and this was provided by representatives from academia, government, producer groups and consumers.

Keeping food safe is becoming increasingly complex due to issues such as climate change and environmental pollution, which need broad-based solutions developed within food systems. At the same time, good practices for safe food production need to be integrated with those along the supply chain to improve sustainability, minimizing environmental damage and reducing food loss and waste. Besides increasing economic opportunities by enabling market access and productivity, applying food systems approaches for food safety would ensure social and environmental benefits. Consumer awareness and education, advocacy and training of a new generation of food safety professionals was highlighted as a priority.

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