Gaborone — Government wishes to position Botswana as an active player in the global multi-billion dollar food industry.
Officiating during World Safety Day in Gaborone on Monday, Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Edwin Dikoloti said that was achievable through growing net exports on indigenous food products and becoming self- reliant.
He said minimizing disruptions in food supply chains therefore remained one of government's highest priorities.
In addition, the 1993 Food Control Act was being reviewed to address gaps and challenges in the current food safety system to align it with international standards, he said.
The minister said to further strengthen Botswana's food control system, his ministry, in collaboration with that of Local Government and Rural Development, assessed food manufacturing licence applications for food safety requirements.
Assessment covered food labelling for compliance to regulations, inspections at food premises and recalls of non-compliant food products, said the minister.
The COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Dikoloti said, had sharpened focus on food safety related issues such as hygiene, antimicrobial resistance, zoonotic diseases, climate change and fraud as well as the potential benefits of digitalizing food systems.
He said the day's theme, "Safe food for now, for a healthy tomorrow", was appropriate as it sought not only to encourage recognition of systemic connections between people's health, animals, plants, environment and economy, but educated on the long term benefits of safe foods production and consumption.
Minister Dikoloti said animal and plant health were critical to agriculture explaining that keeping animals healthy would minimize the risk of zoonotic pathogens that could be transmitted between animals and humans.
In line with adherence to food safety principles, recognition of the systemic connections would help meet the needs of the future, he said.
He said when food safety and hygiene were not maintained, consumers' wellbeing would be compromised leading to potential ill health due to food poisoning and food-borne illnesses.
Dr Dikoloti stated that food-borne illnesses were a preventable but often under-reported public health scourge "which presents a burden to public health and contributes significantly to the cost of health care".
The minister further said food-borne illnesses presented a major challenge to certain demographics, in particular children under five years and persons in low income households.
In Botswana, he said, only a few cases of suspected food-borne illnesses had been reported from schools and public gatherings such as weddings and funerals.
"The challenges could actually be greater than what has been reported because a good number of victims suffer silently and do not report the cases to health authorities," said Dr Dikoloti.
Dr Dikoloti urged all food business operators to ensure food was prepared, handled, stored and served under good manufacturing and hygiene practices.
They were also advised to undertake annual medical examinations of food industry employees as per the Public Health Act.
Minister Dikoloti also urged the food sector to take advantage of government initiatives to produce high quality products and adhere to set protocols, guidelines and regulations.
Stressing the importance of consuming safe food, the ministry's Dr Gaboratanelwe Gasennelwe pointed out that around 600 million fell ill and close to half a million died from consuming unsafe food annually.
Dr Gasennelwe said food must be safe to meet dietary needs and ensure everyone lived an active and healthy life.
She encouraged adoption of good practices of handling food from manufacturer to end user.
Source : BOPA