By J. B. Cordaro
“After air and water, safe-nutritious food is the third most immediate need of all humans.” Ren Wang, Assistant Director General, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Food safety is critical to food security and ensuring safe, nutritious food, but even when viewed from only a few key metrics, it is clear that much needs to be done to address global food safety. The negative human, economic, social and environmental consequences of unsafe foods impact over 4.5 billion people a year in both developed and developing countries, primarily from exposure to mycotoxins, including aflatoxins. This fact represents the tip of the iceberg as the 25% of the world’s food supply that is contaminated impacts 1 in 10 people on our planet who suffer from eating unsafe foods, causing 600 million people to fall ill annually and 420,000 people to die, mostly women and children under 5 years of age.
Ensuring safe food requires a multi-faceted and sustainable approach, and there are efforts under way to address global concerns about all forms and causes of unsafe foods through action oriented platforms led by the United Nations and others to strengthen global food systems and supply chains。
Firstly, food safety is recognized as a component of food security with linkages to nutrition and collateral development components. Secondly, food safety is given higher priority in findings, recommendations and actions by United Nations forums such as the 2014 International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the 2016 Decade of Action on Nutrition (DOAN). Added to that, food safety is highlighted by UN agencies, such as WHO’s declaration of the 2015 World Health Day as Word Food Safety Day and the most recent 2017 FAO Conference calling for the UN General Assembly to establish June 7 as an annual World Food Safety Day.
Within the SDGs, the key focus for safe, nutritious foods is at SDG 2: to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. However, close linkages exist among SDG 2 and other SDGs. SDG 1 - end poverty in all its forms everywhere; SDG 3 - ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages; SDG 5 - achieve gender equity and empower all women and girls; SDG 6 - clean water and sanitation; SDG 12 - responsible consumption and production; SDG 13 - climate action; and SDG 17- the partnership goal, which strengthens the implementation and revitalizes the global partnership for sustainable development.
DOAN’s umbrella function is closely allied with nutrition related goals and targets of the SDGs and the policy commitments from the ICN2 by consolidating and aligning nutrition actions. Specifically DOAN seeks to support and catalyze nutrition actions and investments by helping countries attain specific, measurable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) commitments by 2025. Clearly there is a need to mobilize concrete actions to ensure a safe, nutritious food supply.
The private sector also has a role to play, and collaboration between businesses and other key partners is critical if we are to tackle the many food safety challenges impacting the global food supply today. The opening of Mars’ Global Food Safety Center (GFSC) in 2015 was a significant step. The center seeks to raise the bar through the sharing of food safety expertise, research and training. It’s also a catalyst for collaboration with government, academic institutions, non-governmental organizations and other industry leaders – all vitally important if we are to safely feed a global population expected to reach nine billion or more by 2050. Through the center Mars has collaborated with United Nations entities such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Bank; Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN); the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA); IBM; China Food and Drug Association; several academic and university partnerships: multiple collaborations focused on ensuring safe, nutritious foods to achieve food security.
The Decade of Action on Nutrition has called upon Member States and other stakeholders, including the private sector, to convene platforms to support nutrition actions focused on Sustainable Food Systems for Healthy Diets. A multi-sector driven Safe, Nutritious Foods Alliance platform, supported by business and NGOs could benefit National Governments in their implementation of the 10 principles of the International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) and the 17 SDGs. If this platform is established it would be a valuable resource for existing and planned Mars food safety partnerships and expand the Mars GFSC network.