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Safer food for health and better nutrition

April 7, 2015

Each year, millions of people fall sick as a result of eating unsafe food. Many of them die. More than 200 diseases are spread through food or water contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria, parasites, viruses, toxins and chemicals. Food safety, nutrition and food security are inextricably linked, and can further worsen the health status of those who are already malnourished.

JudithAnn CTA 300This year’s World Health Day, on April 7, takes the theme Food safety: from farm to plate, make food safe. The event focuses on demonstrating the importance of food safety along the whole food supply chain, from production and transport, to preparation and consumption.

Judith Francis, Senior Programme Coordinator for Science & Technology Policy at CTA, talks about the link between food safety, health and nutrition and what changes can be made in the agriculture sector to ensure safer food in ACP countries.

Question (Q): What is the importance of food safety to nutrition outcomes?

Answer (A): We often talk glibly about achieving food and nutrition security, but one of the key pillars – utilisation – which puts emphasis on health and sanitation and people being able to absorb and use the nutrients available from an adequate, affordable well balanced diet, seems to receive the least attention.

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Ensuring that the integrity of the food chain is not compromised at any stage is a priority for producers, processors, suppliers/distributors and governments. Assuring food safety means that unsafe foods, such as aflatoxin-contaminated peanuts, pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables or salmonella-contaminated eggs are not consumed and the risk to human health (and life), especially the most vulnerable is minimised. Hence, improving food safety systems is just as important as improving the availability of, and access to food for improving nutrition outcomes.

Q: How can improvements in the agriculture sector lead to better food safety, and by extension, improved nutrition in ACP countries?

A: We have a situation where millions of children under 5 are stunted in ACP countries (e.g. Haiti, Kenya, Papua New Guinea) and micronutrient (iron and vitamin A) deficiency is high. By adopting good agricultural practices and enforcing hygiene codes and food safety standards and regulations in the food value chain, the first outcome would be improved confidence in the foods produced. The second would be increased trade and monetary reward and the third would be increased access to a diverse supply of fresh and processed food. Consequently, affordable, safe, nutritious food can be within the reach of citizens. Of course, nutrition education is critical.

Q: What policy changes or other initiatives are needed to address this crucial nexus between agriculture, food safety and nutrition?

A: I prefer to address this question by first acknowledging that our collective efforts – that is of governments, donors, scientists, development practitioners and the private sector – to banish hunger and malnutrition have not had the desired impact. This must change as we move towards reaching agreement on post-MDG sustainable development goals. CTA has committed to joint action with the European Commission, FAO and the World Bank Group. The partners have agreed on four guiding principles which include “reducing food safety risks” within the framework of increasing access to nutritious food, and to adding momentum to efforts aimed at promoting nutrition-sensitive interventions. We have started this process by shining the spotlight on addressing aflatoxin contamination by building up the evidence base and sharing good practice in aflatoxin control.

Further resources

- Linking nutrition to the Data Revolution Interview with Lawrence Haddad, Senior research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Nutrition: the missing Sustainable Development Goal Blog article by Paul Neate, Senior communications coordinator at CTA.

- Publication Agriculture and nutrition: A common future, a Framework for joint Action by the European Commission, the FAO, the World Bank Group and CTA.

- Video by the World Health Organisation Making food safe, from farm to plate.