M J Asad
The proverbial phrase ‘You are what you eat’, implies how the quality of food affects its consumers. Since Food is the simplest of the basic necessities of mankind, the concerns for food safety are universal and have a global impact. Access to safe, clean and healthy food is the birthright of every human which unfortunately has been comprised perpetually in all societies across the fabric of time and space.
Today, an estimated 600 million food-borne illnesses are recorded worldwide annually with more than 420,000 mortalities; the young children of less than 5 years almost forming 1/3rd of the figure (125,000).The figures are higher on average in underdeveloped, marginalized and conflict-ridden areas of the world putting these people at an additional risk. Such colossal disease burden owing to food-borne illnesses calls for collective action to achieve satisfactory levels of food safety all over the world.
Food safety is the absence of safe, acceptable levels of hazards in food that may harm the health of consumers. Food-borne hazards can be microbiological, chemical or physical in nature i.e. bacteria, viruses, and pesticide residues etc.
After the adoption of a resolution in the UN General Assembly, the WHO in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United nations are celebrating June 7th 2019 as the first World Food Safety Day under the title “Food Safety, Everyone’s Business”.
Food safety is the key to achieving several of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN General Assembly and World Food Safety Day brings it into the spotlight, to help prevent, detect and manage food-borne risks. Safe food contributes to economic prosperity, boosting agriculture, market access, tourism and sustainable development.
In Pakistan, food safety is of paramount importance as well since the strain of Typhoid, Acute Hepatitis, Rota virus and Cholera has already overburdened and under-resourced healthcare system. All of these diseases can be prevented effectively by enforcing the Food Safety Protocol all along the food chain i.e. from the production point till the consumers’ plate. The World Food Safety Day shall not be one of baseless seminars only but it should be seen as an opportunity to start a long-term initiative. An initiative which would change the way we see things. One which focuses both on better enforcing the Food safety protocols already in place, formulation of new laws to plug deficiencies and to spread mass awareness in general public regarding better food safety and its importance. Everyone involved in the food-chain-from the farmer to the housewife, should be included in the reform process with better farming techniques, safe and clean water, improved transportation and storage facilities in the market, promotion of adequate washing and complete cooking. Only then will we be able to kick-start the long overdue improvements needed in the food safety arena.
The government has established a fully functioning authority, i.e Punjab Food Authority (PFA). It is working in full swing trying to eradicate contamination, adulteration and abuse of consumable products. They have a designated scientific panel under which a fully developed laboratory with latest equipments and resources is also established. Each day they are performing tests and based on the results and their information gathering network, PFA is actively involved in raiding, banning and imposing fines on the factories and food producing units which produce below standard products. On the other hand, it is involved in educating people by arranging seminars and awareness activities on different mediums of mass communication. But is it enough? It is imperative that the work shall not be left to the government alone but a multidisciplinary approach must be opted because safe food, as being the birth-right of every individual, it automatically becomes a responsibility of every individual as well. It is high time that we understand the gravity of the situation and act accordingly.
Continuous and sustained efforts by the authorities as well as the civil society and media, is necessary to achieve satisfactory levels of Food Safety in our highly vulnerable food chain. Because today, the ways by which we get our food, the whole food system, from farm to fork, is very complex and it is increasingly becoming more and more complicated as time passes because of different stakeholder groups and their interdependence. And now more than ever, we need to understand that the preeminent way to deal with this situation is to promote food safety culture from every aspect possible. Make people understand by advertising and advocating the agenda that food safety is a shared responsibility. Manufacturers alone will not be able to do it properly, same is the case with retailers, food authorities and consumers. They alone cannot ensure safe food. So we need to stick together and work as a team as we have no other way to ensure that what we eat; is actually edible.
Such an initiative will not only save precious economic resources but will also result in a healthier and more productive Pakistani society.