I am very pleased to be here with you this morning at the Regional Consultation on Safe Street Foods. On behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, I would like to thank all participants for finding time in your busy schedule to come and attend this Regional Consultation. I also would like to take this opportunity to thank our colleagues in the Institute of Nutrition, Mahidol University and WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia, who have taken initiative to organize this important event.
SOCIO-ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF STREET FOODS
Rapid economic growth, urbanization and globalization are having a dramatic impact on food systems around the world. Food systems are changing at a rapid rate. Especially in Asia, dramatic economic shift and subsequent urbanization have brought about a major change in food supply, and people’s lifestyle and dietary patterns in recent years.
Street foods have become an indispensable component of food supply systems in many cities especially in developing countries. Street foods, defined as “ready-to eat foods and beverages prepared and/or sold by vendors and hawkers especially in street and other similar public places”, are found in clusters around places such as work places, schools, hospitals, railway stations, and bus terminals, and are easily accessible. They are generally inexpensive, and in fact, often less expensive than home cooked foods. Because of the convenience, street foods are becoming increasingly popular especially among working people who spend long hours away from home, and lack time to cook their own meals.
Although the influence depends on consumers’ choice, street foods have significant nutritional implications for consumers, particularly for low and middle income families, who depend heavily on street foods. For example, in Bangkok, according to a study, street foods contribute up to 40% of total energy intake, 39% of total protein intake and 44% of total iron intake for the residents.
Street foods are often influenced by traditional local cultures and there is much diversity in the raw materials as well as in the preparation of street foods. In many places, street foods are also an important tourist attraction, and are contributing local development.
Another important aspect of street foods is that they generate significant employment opportunities. Street food businesses are usually owned and operated by individuals, or involve entire families including the procurement of raw materials, preparation and cooking of meals and their sale. The businesses can be started with relatively simple skills and low investment, and are especially important for the poor and migrants from rural areas who have limited investment capacity, education and skills, and those who have lost their jobs due to financial crisis. It has been reported that there has been a substantial increase in the number of street vendors in the cities in Asia, including Thailand, Singapore and Philippines since the financial crisis in the late 90’s.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Benefits of the street food businesses can also be extended throughout the local economy. For instance, vendors buy their fresh food locally, linking their businesses directly with small-scale producers, traders and processors. They often face challenges from the commercial transformation of agri-food systems and market competition. In many cases, the impact on local agriculture and overall economic implications of street foods are immense.
SAFETY OF STREET FOODS
Ladies and gentlemen,
While there are positive factors in favour of street foods, negative aspects and serious concerns have been raised regarding their safety and quality, and associated food borne diseases. The problems are found with the quality of raw materials, and the handling of food, water and utensils. Furthermore, street foods are often produced by those who have never been trained in food hygiene or sanitation, and have limited knowledge of proper food safety practices.
Therefore, appropriate actions should be taken to ensure the quality and safety of street foods. First, the conditions under which foods are prepared and sold should be improved, which involves proper governance, city planning and infrastructure development, including provision of adequate space and facilities such as water, garbage disposal services, and toilets.
Secondly, and most importantly, appropriate laws and regulations, food control systems and institutional setting such as hygienic and quality; inspection services and laboratories are necessary.
Lastly, relevant training and awareness should be provided to street food vendors regarding causes and consequences of food borne diseases associated with street foods and good hygienic practices to be maintained. It is also important to raise awareness on various aspects of safety of street foods among stakeholders and the general public, including consumers.
FAO’s WORK ON STREET FOODS
Ladies and gentlemen,
Food safety is essential and fundamental requirement for life of all people irrespective of rich or poor, and providing an increasing global population with safe and nutritious food is the principal mandate of FAO.
FAO’s programmes cover various aspects of food quality and safety throughout the stages of production, storage, transportation, processing, and marketing.
Specifically on street foods, FAO’s activities related to street foods began 3 decades ago. To improve the safety of street foods and reduce the burden of food borne diseases associated with street foods, FAO has worked on:
• capacity building of the local authorities in food quality and safety control;
• research on the street food sector, in terms of socio-economic impact, legislative framework, hygienic and nutritional improvement;
• education and training to improve vendors’ knowledge about sanitation and food hygiene, and nutritional value of foods;
• information sharing and networking among local and national authorities to disseminate good practices and promote a common strategy; and
• awareness raising among consumers about nutrition and hygiene aspects of street foods.
Various other actions have been undertaken by other actors as well to improve the situation. Much has been achieved, but much remains to be done.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As mentitoned earlier, street foods provide employment to many, while providing nutritious, inexpensive and tasty foods to consumers, ensuring their daily food security and nutrition. Despite its importance, I must admit that issues around street foods, especially negative aspects primarily related to food-borne hazards have tended to be overlooked by many policy makers and stakeholders. I believe that this Consultation will help you review the principles and status of current practices, and identify the way forward to improve the quality and safety of street foods.
I would also like to highlight here that since 2007, as you may be aware, the world’s population is predominantly urban. Indeed, by year 2050, more than 70% of the world’s population is expected to be urban. FAO has identified ‘Food for the Cities’ as high on the agenda. Although this is a multidisciplinary task, quality and safety of street foods is playing an important part of the focus. FAO is planning a Regional Workshop around November on this subject wherein the highlights and recommendations of this Consultation would also be placed and further discussed.
I wish you a successful and fruitful Consultation.