Food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites and toxic chemicals is a mounting health hazard and a crippling economic burden, a global conference on food safety has been told.
The two-day forum is bringing together government officials and health experts from 125 countries to combat the peril of unsafe food, which kills more than 400,000 people each year, according to UN estimates.
“Today, the world produces enough food for everyone,” Jose Graziano Da Silva, director general of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said at the opening of the conference on Monday.
But much of this food “is not safe”, he added. “We estimate that each year, nearly one person in 10 falls sick after eating contaminated food,” said Kazuaki Miyagishima, who heads the World Health Organisation (WHO) food security department.
Of the 600 million people who fall sick from unsafe food, around 420,000 dies, according to the UN’s estimate. Children under five suffer most, comprising 40 per cent of those who fall ill.
Of the 600 million people who fall sick from unsafe food, around 420,000 die, according to the UN’s estimate.
According to the WHO, contaminated food is to blame more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhoea to cancers — and the economic impact is huge but often overlooked. The FAO estimates the cost for low and middle-income countries to be in the range of $95 billion per year.
“Food safety is a crucial issue for everyone on earth, but it is here in Africa that the impact of the scourge is felt most,” AU Commission chair Moussa Faki told the conference, adding that a third of those affected come from the continent.
Miyagishima said a multi-pronged approach was needed. This includes stronger laws, better training and equipment and beefing up health systems to detect potential risks and swap information countries, he said.
The conference comes at a time of swelling controversy over the use of chemical products in agriculture, including the controversial weed-killer Roundup. The UN in December announced the creation of a World Food Safety Day on June 7.