A regional manager at the World Health Organization has said the number of people becoming sick or dying from dangerous food is”staggering” and”unacceptable.”
Every year in Europe and Central Asia, more than 23 million people fall sick from foodborne illness, with the young and poor mostly impacted. Such illness is responsible for 5,000 preventable deaths per year, according to WHO statistics printed in 2015.
Hans Kluge, WHO Europe regional director, said the area can and wants to do better.
“The staggering number of individuals falling sick or dying after consuming unsafe food in our region is unacceptable. Food safety is a highly complex health issue involving multiple domestic and international stakeholders. Over 200 diseases are caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances,” he said during a webinar on World Food Safety Day.
“In recent years, food safety in the region has been affected by new developments that have changed the conditions in which food is produced, processed, traded and consumed. Globalization of the food chain has changed consumer habits and international trade in food and agricultural products is greater than before. This complexity increases the risks of unsafe food spreading across borders and affects the way we manage food safety risks.
“COVID-19 has imposed additional challenges for manufacturers and food security authorities. These include the demand for execution of measures to control and reduce the risk of transmission in food businesses. WHO EU supports its 53 member states to strengthen food safety. Now should inspire action at all levels to prevent, find and manage food safety risks from the region.”
Rising interest across the region
More than 200 participants joined the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and WHO virtual event, which is available to watch here.
Vladimir Rakhmanin, FAO assistant director general and regional representative for Europe and Central Asia, said food safety has always been a priority for the region.
“We understand the continuing efforts of member countries, always improving their regulatory frameworks, scientific and technological abilities for official controls to protect consumers and enable farmers and companies to comply with food safety requirements and access local, regional and international markets,” he said.
“Food safety is growing in prominence across the area with more activities and projects being implemented. As we advocate for greater investment in and focus on food security, we reaffirm the support and dedication to working with partners and governments, to scale up efforts such as strengthening resilient, well-functioning and secure food value chains.
“Among the many lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, the experiences of the past 15 months has raised awareness of the importance of demonstrating compliance with food safety requirements as a pre-condition to access markets. Food safety risks and hazards can easily transfer from one country to another and unsafe food can quickly spread to many countries.”
Real threats vs perceived concerns
Delia Grace, a professor of food security systems in the University of Greenwich, stated at one time food safety wasn’t a priority for low and middle income countries.
“The 2015 WHO report found the health burden of food safety was equivalent to that of HIV, tuberculosis or AIDS so that made food safety come to the top of the list that people in developing countries were worried about. It’s always been a priority in high income countries partly because we’ve more or less got rid of most infectious diseases,” she said.
Grace, a leading scientist in the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), stated there can be many hazards in the informal sector including aflatoxins in milk in Nairobi, Bacillus cereus in boiled milk at Abidjan, Staphylococcus Aureus in farmed fish in Egypt, Trichinella in pork in Uganda and Listeria in milk and fish in Ghana.
“This is a saying we have in food safety, what you worry about and what kills you are not the same. I bet maybe half of the participants are more worried about GMOs, pesticides, antibiotic residues and they are not so worried about germs as they feel they can deal with germs,” she said.
“When we did this in Vietnam we asked folks what their issue was and they were very worried about chemicals and not very concerned about germs. We knew that this was wrong as we’re food safety specialists but they did not think us so we needed to perform the tests. We found only 1 percent of 366 kidney, liver and pork samples were over the re