Contaminated food a hidden health hazard
Food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites and toxic chemicals is a mounting health hazard and crippling economic burden, a global conference on food safety has been told.
The two-day forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is bringing together health bosses and experts from 125 countries and regions to combat the peril of unsafe food, a hazard that 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 Organization, said at the opening of the conference on Monday. But much of this food “is not safe.”
Kazuaki Miyagishima, who heads the World Health Organization food security department said: “We estimate that each year, nearly one person in 10 falls sick after eating contaminated food.”
Of the 600 million who fall sick from unsafe food, around 420,000 die, according to the UN’s estimate. Children under 5 suffer most, comprising 40 percent of those who fall ill.
According to the WHO, contaminated food is to blame for more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhoea to cancers.
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 US$95 billion per year.
The conference, attended by ministers and deputy ministers from some 20 countries, is expected to issue a call for better coordination and support.
“Africa has a major interest in this,” said Miyagishima, adding that the continent, followed by Southeast Asia, is the worst affected by contaminated food.
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 as well as swapping information between countries, he said.
The risks are very diverse, ranging from bacteria such as salmonella or listeria, to chemicals such as cancer-causing heavy metals and organic pollutants.
For countries facing drought or famine, the challenge is preventing the population from using water contaminated by cholera, or eating food unsuitable for consumption.
For countries trying to better respect international norms, Miyagishima warned of a “situation where exported food is of a better quality than products destined for the local market.”
The conference comes at a time of controversy over the use of chemicals in agriculture, including the weed-killer Roundup.