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Give attention to food safety standards practices; FAO tells Africa

BY: Nana Konadu Agyeman
 Dr Abebe Haile -Gabriel (right) addressing participants in the forum on World Food Safety. Pictures: EBOW HANSON
Dr Abebe Haile -Gabriel (right) addressing participants in the forum on World Food Safety. Pictures: EBOW HANSON

Ghana celebrated this year’s World Food Safety Day with a public forum in Accra last Friday, at which the point was strongly made for African countries to give serious attention to the development of food safety standards and practices in the respective countries, to safeguard the public against diseases.

The local celebration that was held on the theme: “Food safety, everyone’s business,” brought together policy makers, civil society organisations and development partners, to deliberate on how to improve food safety along the food value chain in Ghana to protect public health.

It was jointly organised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA).

The Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa of the FAO, Dr Abebe Haile-Gabriel, who addressed the forum, said food-borne diseases in low and middle-income countries cost those countries about $100 billion a year.

With respect to Ghana, he said the FAO, in its bid to ensure food safety in the country, had been supporting stakeholder institutions such as the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), the Veterinary Services Directorate, the Plant Protection and Regulatory Services, the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA), as well as the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, to improve upon food safety and nutrition.

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Statistics

According to statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 600 million people, almost one in 10 people in the world, fall ill after eating contaminated food, leading to 420,000 deaths every year.

Children under five years of age carried 40 per cent of the food-borne diseases burden that caused 125,000 deaths among children annually.

“The African region has the highest burden with more than 91 million people falling ill from consuming contaminated food and 137,000 deaths every year,” it added.

Diseases

The WHO Representative to Ghana, Dr Owen Kaluwa, who disclosed the figures, explained that unsafe food were food that contained harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances that caused diseases such as acute diarrhoea and cancers.

Those diseases, he said, imposed substantial burden on healthcare systems leading to reduced economic productivity.

“A recent World Bank study found out that the public health cost estimate of food-borne diseases in low and middle-income economies alone is a staggering $15.1 billion,” Dr Kaluwa added.

He said new threats to food safety were constantly emerging with changes in food production, distribution and consumption, adding that changes to the environment, new and emerging pathogens, also posed challenges to national food safety systems.

Dr Kaluwa, therefore, stressed the need for the adaptation of food systems to meet those changing needs for the better protection of public health, particularly with the growing concern over the increase in resistant microorganisms entering into the food value chain.

“In combating anti-microbial resistance, prudent use of antimicrobials in agriculture, aquaculture and animal husbandry are critical as is the case in human medicine,” Dr Kaluwa emphasised.

Concerns

In a speech read on his behalf, the Minister of Health, Mr Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, said the threat of food-borne diseases to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the United Nations was a reality as the country currently faced challenges in ensuring food safety.

 Dr Abebe Haile -Gabriel (right) addressing participants in the forum on World Food Safety. Pictures: EBOW HANSON

“If Ghana wants to make strides in achieving SDGs 2, 3 and 7, issues on food safety must be prioritised,” he stressed.

The minister, therefore, called on stakeholder institutions to be committed to implementing policies and legislation that supported sustainable food systems in the country.