We must have felt ashamed in our modern, technologically advanced world when we learned that approximately 828 million people worldwide are hungry. In 2020, more than nine per cent of the world's population was undernourished. It has been estimated that around 46 million people were brought to a state of hunger due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Looking at the global food supply, the global population per capita has access to approximately 2,920.5 kilocalories (kcal) of energy per day.
At the aggregate level, even Africa has 2,547 kcal per day of energy availability per capita. It is worth noting that the recommended average energy requirement for a healthy adult is 2,200 to 2,500 kcal per day. It clearly demonstrates that there is no overall food deficit. Nonetheless, around 10 per cent of the global population is suffering from hunger. Therefore, it is more than just a production. Furthermore, approximately 30 per cent of harvested food is lost annually from harvest to the consumer supply chain segment.
Food insecurity is still a major issue in various parts of the world. However, one might be more surprised by the issues of food safety. In its most basic form, food safety is the condition of foods with an acceptable level of risk. Or, to put it another way, it can be defined as the assurance of food at appropriate levels of safety. According to the World Bank, the cost of foodborne illnesses in low and middle income countries is USD 110 billion per year. Within this amount, USD 15 billion per year is the sum of treatment costs, and the rest, USD 95.2 billion per year, is
Food safety is often neglected in most of the developing and least-developed countries, either due to limited knowledge or negligence. Most of the time, it is very difficult to link foodborne illnesses to their exact causes. As a result, the reporting system for foodborne illness is not well-established in many countries. However, it is estimated that globally, around 420,000 premature deaths are caused by contaminated foods. Further, we are losing 33 million healthy lives each year, measured in disability-adjusted life years (DALYs). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the consumption of contaminated foods can cause more than 200 different types of diseases.
Pesticides are one of the major food safety concerns. There are more than 1,000 pesticides in the world. It is important to note that the global population has already reached 8 billion and is estimated to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. To feed those populations, we need to produce significantly higher quantities of food, for which 80 per cent of the increment has to come from productivity enhancement. Because it is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve more than 20 per cent additional production from area expansion. In this process, heavy use of pesticides is anticipated. Therefore, an in-depth risk assessment of pesticides is crucial. At this moment, Codex Alimentarius has developed standards for more than 100 pesticides. Therefore, developing alternatives for chemical pesticides and their scientific uses as well as strict regulations are pivotal to strengthening food safety. Furthermore, strictly adhering to the scientific uses of pesticides significantly reduces the risk to food safety.
The government and other stakeholders are frequently focused on pesticide issues. However, pesticides are just a part of the bigger picture of food safety risks. Several bacteria are causing foodborne illnesses. Salmonella, Campylobacter, enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli, Listeria, and Vibrio cholera are some of the most common foodborne pathogens. To control microbial activity, we use antibiotics. Indiscriminate use of antibiotics is causing antimicrobial resistance. Besides bacteria, viruses, parasites, and prions are major concerns for food safety. Under the chemical category, there are some naturally occurring toxins, like mycotoxin; others are persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals, and other chemicals.
What to understand
Among several hazards in food, some decline over the period. For instance, the effect of pesticides slowly diminishes. However, biological hazards may grow further. For example, if food gets contaminated with bacteria or fungus when it gets to the appropriate temperature, it will grow significantly and make the food dangerous for consumption. Some food safety hazards come from the field due to bad agricultural practices. And other food safety hazards may be introduced along the supply chain—in transportation, storage, wholesale, retail, and even at the consumer end. Therefore, food safety should be assured from farm to fork. The effect of contaminated food varies from simple discomfort to several illnesses and even death.
As we have seen, food safety is not a single point of failure. As a result, all actors in the agri-food system share equal responsibility for food safety. Farmers are encouraged to adopt good agricultural practices. Transporters and traders are suggested to adopt Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point Systems. Consumers are requested to prefer food safety-certified products. The government needs a science-based regulatory and promotion system. Another important part of the process is the media. The media should cooperate with the government and other organisations to educate people on food safety. International organis ations like FAO, Codex, IPPC, and WHO should actively support member countries on technical side.
It should be acknowledged that every country cannot invest huge amounts to maintain an adequate level of food safety. Therefore, identifying community-based solutions that are low-cost and easy to implement are crucial. We should not forget that the government alone cannot solve such large-scale issues. Therefore, the need for both co-governance and auto-governance is crucial. Fortunately, we now have stronger local governments, and their role in maintaining food safety is pivotal.
Increased food loss and waste demand more production. Furthermore, production necessitates increased chemical use in farming and food systems. As a result, reducing food loss and waste is critical, not only from a food safety standpoint but also from a sustainability and climate change standpoint. Likewise, long food chains have extended chances of being contaminated. Thus, the promotion of the local food system and short value chain is desirable. Finally, without food safety, food security cannot be assured.-TRN Online
(GC is a food safety expert.)