More Information and Investment in Food Safety Needed to Tackle High Human Cost of Foodborne Illness, New Report Finds

6 February 2019
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African Development Bank (Abidjan)

Development spending efforts should target improved food safety for African consumers, who need greater information and awareness to be able to demand higher standards, finds the Global Food Safety Partnership.

More than half of donor-funded food safety initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa are focused on overseas markets, with less than half on domestic consumers, a new report from the Global Food Safety Partnership has found.

An analysis of more than 500 projects and activities in sub-Saharan Africa since 2010 found that most of them focused on food safety for exports. While exports are crucial for economies, the African continent suffers the world's worst levels of food safety, causing human capital losses of an estimated $16.7 billion a year in Africa.

The Partnership called for more investment into public health programmes after finding that less than 5% of donor investments addressed the specific health risks, such as Salmonella and E.coli that local consumers face when purchasing from informal food markets.

The report, launched ahead of the first International Food Safety Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, highlighted the need for targeted investment to promote food safety at a domestic level across Africa, where foodborne illnesses claim an estimated 137,000 lives a year, according to figures from the WHO. Globally, foodborne disease levies a public health burden similar to malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

"The future of the food system is critical to the long-term well-being of Africa and its people, and for the global food system to be a successful provider, food must be safe for everyone... With growing populations and changing diets, now is the time to take stock of the current food safety landscape in Africa and for new efforts to address old challenges", said Juergen Voegele, Senior Director for Food and Agriculture Global Practice at the World Bank, which hosts the Global Food Safety Partnership.

Food safety is key to the success of Africa's agriculture-led development strategies, with most smallholders growing crops and livestock for household consumption and also to sell to local markets to generate income. Yet the annual donor investment in food safety is more than 300 times less than the productivity losses caused by foodborne illness, the report stated.

The authors, whose partners included the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the African Development Bank, describe four factors affecting food safety in the region. These include environmental conditions, food markets, physical infrastructure and governance.

"Our hope is that this report will result in a greater prioritization of investments in food safety for African consumers, better alignment of development support to food safety, and a sharper focus on lifting the public health burden of foodborne disease in sub-Saharan Africa", said Louise Scura, Chair of the Global Food Safety Partnership governing committee.

"The abundance of a variety of safe and nutritious food is the foundation for good health and cognitive development of Africa's people... The African Development Bank is committed to supporting key activities that will translate the Global Food Safety Report into reality and secure our food systems", commented Martin Fregene, the African Development Bank's Director of Agriculture and Agro-Industry.

The report recommends investment in public health-focused programmes that raise awareness and encourage consumer demand for higher food safety standards. This includes efforts to better inform the public about food safety issues so that demand for safe food drives market incentives for higher standards. The three recommendations are: 1. Better addressing the health of domestic consumers dependent on informal markets; 2. Building capacity for well-governed, evidence- and risk-based food safety systems; 3. Harnessing today's marketplace drivers of progress on food safety.

About the Global Food Safety Partnership

The Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP) is a public-private partnership dedicated to promoting global cooperation for food safety capacity building in developing countries. Hosted at the World Bank, the GFSP promotes food safety systems based on prevention underpinned by science to reduce the public health burden of food borne disease and advocates that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are unattainable without the achievement of safe, adequate and nutritious food for all.

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