68 Investing in food safety for equitable and sustainable development

Organizers: Food Safety and Quality Unit, FAO, Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses, WHO


Assuring food safety is not just a global public good, but is integral to the achievement of development goals, including food and nutrition security, sustainable agriculture, economic growth and enhanced livelihoods. In order to be food secure, people must have access to safe food. Too frequently, food safety still remains the hidden element of food and nutrition security. While agriculture and food production are essential to development in many countries, producers of food often lack the capacity, knowledge and infrastructure to guarantee safe food. At policy level, governments need to reflect on the link between food safety and market access, economic development and poverty alleviation. The consumption of unsafe food also negatively impacts another key pillar of development – public health. Recently, WHO has produced evidence which shows that many of the world’s poorest countries, with nutritionally vulnerable populations, bear the greatest burden of unsafe food. Immediate action is needed to manage critical and emerging food safety risks. Investment in food safety needs to take place at different stages by the private sector working in value chains, and in government policy and infrastructure. At the global level, the ICN2 framework for action highlights the importance of Codex standards, encouraging developing countries to work within and to make sure that their critical issues are being addressed

Key speakers

Keynote speaker: Jane Ruth Aceng, Honourable Minister, Minister of Health, Uganda

Moderator: Corinna Hawkes, Director, Centre for Food Policy, City University of London, UK


Adegbola Adesogan, Professor of Animal Sciences, University of Florida,  USA

Dave Crean, Vice President of Corporate R&D at Mars, Incorporated

Kazuaki Miyagishima, Director, Department of Food Safety & Zoonoses, WHO

Steven Were Omamo, Food Systems Coordinator and Deputy Director of Policy and Programme Division, WFP

Olcay Ünver, Deputy Director, Land and Water Division, FAO

Main themes/issues discussed

A multidisciplinary panel discussed the importance of food safety to the achievement of key development goals, and in particular explored the linkages between food safety and health, nutrition, economic, and food and agriculture agendas. The panel discussed: 

  • how food safety is intrinsically linked to food and nutrition security and human development;
  • the importance of multi-sectoral approaches and policy coherence as a means to improving food safety;
  • the changing dynamics in agriculture production, food systems, and rural and urban environments with resulting impact on food safety;
  • why planned and sustainable investment in food control systems is essential;
  • actions needed by government actors and the private sector, and the need for both sectors to work together to assure safe food;

Summary of key points

Food safety challenges include among others, the risk of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), chemical and microbial contamination and zoonotic diseases. Where food is unsafe, poorer health and nutritional status, economic losses, hampered economic growth and rural development will be the consequences. Negative impacts on health are further exacerbated where food sources, that are a critical source of essential nutrients, such as animal-source foods, are unsafe.

The reality in many countries shows an inadequate investment in food control systems and food safety is often the missing nexus in food and nutrition security. To sustain human development, governments need to strengthen national food control systems so that all food (domestic consumption and export) is safe. This requires multi-sectoral approaches driven by sound, coherent policies, firmly embedding food safety in policy decisions for agriculture development, the environment, and food and nutrition security. 

The need for action is ever more urgent – the WHO Burden of Disease study shows that many of the world’s poorest countries bear the greatest burden from unsafe food. 600 million people fall ill and 420,000 die annually due to food borne diseases, one third of them are children under 5 years old.

Growing populations and rising demands for food, results in pressure to increase food production. Food production needs to be sustainable with due attention to environmental protection, and food safety starting at the earliest stages of production through to the final consumer.

The private sector reports the rejection at the farm gate of up to 70% of corn deliveries because of their high aflatoxin content; these products are often re directed to local markets in countries with weak food control systems. 

For the private sector, food safety is a non-negotiable and non-competitive condition. Public-private partnerships can leverage the strengths of the private sector – a resource for information and data on food production. Ensuring food safety can present challenges, however when equipped with necessary capacity and knowledge, food producers, including small holders can meet food safety and quality standards and can integrate into supply chains. Efforts of organizations such as WFP (procuring $1.2 billion worth food in over 70 countries) to locally procure food aid supports livelihoods, have shown to effectively raise standards of quality and safety of foods.

Food and agriculture production can exert pressures on the environment, with potential for negative knock-on effects on food safety. Agriculture consumes about 70% of the global water withdrawals, affecting the quantity and quality of water. Sustainable water use solutions are needed, up to and including the safe use of waste-water for food production activities.

At global and national level, Codex standards play an essential role in public health protection and facilitating fair practices in the food trade.

Key outcomes/take away messages

  • Food safety is central to ensuring sustainable development, and food safety needs to be assured if food and nutrition goals are to be achieved;
  • All food supplies need to be safe, including foods produced and distributed in harsh environments, and during emergencies and protracted crises; Immediate action is needed to manage critical and emerging food safety risks, by prioritizing food safety in national development plans and providing a framework for public and private sectors to work together;
  • Food safety is a continuous process requiring well-planned management with constant investment over years;
  • Only when value chain operators have the capacity to comply with food safety regulations will they improve the safety of foods produced, and improve their livelihoods;
  • Decisions taken in one sector may have the potential for positive or negative impacts on food safety. Decision makers need to be cognizant of these linkages and ensure policy coherence.