It is urgent to establish a food safety culture in which all consumers expect and have access to healthy food. Guaranteeing this access is a collective work.
The exponential growth in the global demand for food, in addition to strict environmental, trade and transportation controls, generates significant challenges for the production sector.
The availability of safe food is a critical factor in order to guarantee social well-being. The risks faced by national health services will increase as consumers demand a greater variety of fresh products.
In 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 600 million people fall ill after eating contaminated food, and 420,000 of them die each year.
International trade, migration, and travel increase the risk of contracting an illness through the intake of contaminated products. These illnesses are caused by chemical residues, pathogens, and parasites that contaminate food during its production, processing or transportation.
The Americas is one of the regions with the highest food production and export rates worldwide; therefore, health and food safety represent key elements for development.
These issues must be addressed in a comprehensive manner. It is critical to establish mechanisms to meet the growing demand for food and, at the same time, guarantee safety and generate favorable conditions that would enable farmers to participate effectively in international markets.
One of the primary challenges is ensuring that all consumers can expect and have access to healthy food. Traceability and quality mechanisms have been established to guarantee this access in some countries and for some products. However, standards for production geared toward international exportation or domestic consumption still vary greatly.
The ability to develop a robust food safety culture at the global level depends on effective collaboration between the public and private sectors. It is important to continue working to identify areas of synergy in which different stakeholders in the production chain could collaborate to establish best practices aimed at bridging the gaps between safety systems for products destined for domestic consumption and export.
With support from international cooperation agencies such as the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), governments across the hemisphere are undertaking work in the fields of prevention and capacity building, in order to provide producers with the technical or legal tools they require to provide food that meets safety standards.
Over and above the risks associated with specific products or contaminants, the most pressing challenge is establishing, fostering and supporting a food safety culture in which all consumers can expect and have access to healthy food, regardless of where it was produced or who produced it. Access to safe food must be considered a human right, and we must work together to guarantee it.
(*) Robert G. Ahern - Principal Officer, Agricultural Health and Food Safety (IICA)