Why should countries invest in food safety?

Why should countries invest in food safety?

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Unsafe food costs low- and middle-income economies US$ 110 billion in lost productivity and medical expenses each year.
Preventative measures—including greater investment, better regulatory frameworks and measures that promote behaviour change—can help countries avoid food safety problems. An inclusive approach to food safety management that makes food safety a shared responsibility among government, farmers, food businesses and consumers will be most effective,
In many developing countries, food safety usually receives minimal policy attention and investment and only tends to capture national attention during foodborne disease outbreaks and other crises. As a result, many countries have weak food safety systems in terms of infrastructure, trained human resources, food safety culture and enforceable regulations. The costs of unsafe food are high—especially in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, which have the highest incidence of foodborne diseases. Aside from public health costs and the loss of productivity associated with food-borne diseases, disruptions to food markets and impediments to agri-food exports due to food safety problems also take a toll.
The good news is that much of the burden of unsafe food can be avoided through practical and often low-cost behavior and infrastructure changes at different points along food value chains, including in traditional food production and distribution channels. The Safe Food Imperative: Accelerating Progress in Low- and Middle-Income Countries provides countries with a guide to avoiding the burden of unsafe food—including the right type of investments, policies, and other interventions.
Main Messages:
Unsafe food undermines food and nutritional security, human development, the broader food economy, and international trade.
The total productivity loss associated with foodborne disease in low- and middle-income countries is estimated to cost $95.2 billion per year, and the annual cost of treating foodborne illnesses is estimated at $15 billion. Other costs include losses of farm and company sales, foregone trade income, the health repercussions of consumer avoidance of perishable yet nutrient-rich foods, and the environmental burden of food waste.
Instead of the traditional ‘regulator-regulated’ approach focused on enforcement and penalties, government efforts should focus on incentivizing and facilitating the delivery of safe production, processing and distribution of food.
There is also a need for more sustained investments in food safety that build country capacity to manage food safety risks, and encourage behavioral change in different stakeholders.
A new World Bank study finds that the impact of unsafe food costs low- and middle-income economies about US$ 110 billion in lost productivity and medical expenses each year. Yet a large proportion of these costs could be avoided by adopting preventative measures that improve how food is handled from farm to fork. Better managing the safety of food would also significantly contribute to achieving multiple Sustainable Development Goals, especially those relating to poverty, hunger, and well-being.
Foodborne diseases caused an estimated 600 million illnesses and 420,000 premature deaths in 2010 according to the World Health Organization. This global burden of foodborne disease is unequally distributed. Relative to their population, low- and middle-income countries in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa bear a proportionately high burden. They account for 41 percent of the global population yet 53 percent of all foodborne illness and 75 percent of related deaths. Unsafe food threatens young children the most: although children under 5 make up only 9 percent of the world’s population, they account for almost 40 percent of foodborne disease and 30 percent of related deaths.
The Safe Food Imperative: Accelerating Progress in Low- and Middle-Income Countries translates these grim statistics into economic terms to focus government attention on the need for greater investment, better regulatory frameworks, and measures that promote behavior change. The total productivity loss associated with foodborne disease in low- and middle-income countries is estimated to cost US$ 95.2 billion per year, and the annual cost of treating foodborne illnesses is estimated at US$ 15 billion. Other costs, though harder to quantify, include losses of farm and company sales, foregone trade income, the health repercussions of consumer avoidance of perishable yet nutrient-rich foods, and the environmental burden of food waste.
“Food safety receives relatively little policy attention and is under-resourced. Action is normally reactive—to major foodborne disease outbreaks or trade interruptions—rather than preventative,” says Juergen Voegele, Senior Director of the Food and Agriculture Global Practice at the World Bank. “By focusing on domestic food safety more deliberately, countries can strengthen the competitiveness of their farmers and food industry and develop their human capital. After all, safe food is essential to fuel a healthy, educated, and resilient workforce.”
For many low- and middle-income countries, rapid demographic and dietary changes among others are contributing to wider exposure of populations to foodborne hazards, stretching if not overwhelming prevailing capacity to manage food safety risks. The Safe Food Imperative: Accelerating Progress in Low- and Middle-Income Countries schematically describes the alignment—or lack of alignment—between food safety risks and the capacity to manage them as countries develop economically and food systems and diets transform. The study finds that the gap is the most pronounced “in the middle of the pack,” that is, among lower-middle income countries, and it offers targeted recommendations to address these.
“Governments in low- and middle-income countries not only need to invest more in food safety but also invest more smartly,” says Steven Jaffee, Lead Agriculture Economist at the World Bank and study co-author. “This means investing in foundational knowledge, human resources, and infrastructure; realizing synergies among investments in food safety, human health, and environmental protection; and using public investment to leverage private investment.”
The study also supports a shift in approaches to food safety regulation. The traditional approach centers on enforcing regulatory compliance through product testing and food facility inspections, and the application of legal and financial penalties for infractions. Greater emphasis is needed on providing information and other resources to motivate and empower food sector operators to comply with food safety regulation.
“The results of regulation should be measured in terms of compliant enterprises, confident consumers, and food safety outcomes rather than the number of fines or business closures,” says Jaffee.
The Safe Food Imperative: Accelerating Progress in Low- and Middle-Income Countries was supported by the US Food and Drug Administration. It is a collaborative effort involving multiple researchers and practitioners and draws on data and insights from the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and other partners. – World Bank Group

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