by Ricardo Real Preciado
For World Health Day 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) chose to focus on the cross-cutting challenge of food safety -- an urgent priority. This is one of a series of actions (including a report to be released later this year) that the WHO is taking to raise awareness about food safety and to spur action. Every year, foodborne and waterborne diarrheal diseases affect 48 million people in the US alone, and globally, they kill an estimated two million people, including many children in developing countries, a rising number that has brought the cause to the fore.
Food contaminants, such as harmful parasites, bacteria, viruses, prions, chemical and radioactive substances cause more than 200 diseases – ranging from infectious diseases to cancers. This difficult and underrated problem poses major economic risks causing billions of dollars in losses for industries and emergency aid.
Today, on World Health Day, we call for governments to align comprehensive food safety policies and programs and create effective partnerships across all sectors to strengthen global food systems and ensure that food safety is a priority.
Later this year, WHO will release its first comprehensive estimates of the global burden of death and illness caused by foodborne and waterborne diseases. The report will give all sectors an overview of which areas need to be tackled to reduce risks associated with food.
Because of the globalization and industrialization of our food system, contamination at one end of the food chain can often affect populations around the world at the other end. From inaction by government and food companies to consumer unawareness, poor food safety measures and lack of education and awareness are resulting in millions suffering from illness or death and costing billions of dollars in health care costs (not to mention the health of animals).
There are preventable solutions and movements to counteract this problem. One solution is for governments to fund and grow sustainable farming practices and programs to build safer food systems. Governments can reform farm subsidies to transform agricultural policies and put the focus on what benefits the consumer and should strictly follow the Codex Alimentarius international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice contribute to the safety, quality and fairness of this international food trade.
However, the global fight for food safety can’t be left to governments alone. To reboot the system and make real, tangible change, actors all along the food chain from farm to table should make food safety the bottom line of their business. There is a lot at stake for protecting consumers' health and ensuring fair practices in the food trade. This World Health Day, we most all work through partnership, action, and education to strengthen our food system and make food safety a priority.