Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Home > Director General > My statements > detail
Director-General  José Graziano da Silva
A statement by FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva
Check against delivery

International Forum on Food Safety and Trade

Geneva, 23 April 2019


First of all, I would like to thank the Director-General, Ambassador Roberto Azevedo, for welcoming us to WTO today and for organizing this important event along with FAO and WHO.  

As Ambassador Azevedo has just mentioned,
this is the second forum on food safety under the umbrella of the International Food Safety Conference, in order to discuss the future of food safety.

African Commissioner Ms. Josefa Sacko will soon present the results of the first forum that took place in Addis Ababa last February.

But I would like to highlight one particular outcome of that meeting: the strong link between food safety and healthy diets.

Food safety cannot be only about preventing people from getting food poisoning or sick from food-borne illnesses.

Food safety must also be about preventing people from suffering from malnutrition.

Nowadays, a large amount of ultra-processed food is still considered safe for consumption.

But the fact is that the consumption of ultra-processed food is the main reason behind the alarming and growing levels of obesity in the world.

Ultra-processed food contains little to no nutritional value, with a high content of saturated fats, refined sugar, salt and chemical additives.

Today, more than 670 million adults are obese. Some projections estimate that the number of obese people will very soon overtake the number of people suffering from hunger in the world, which accounted for 821 million in 2017.
This has already happened in Latin America and the Caribbean region.

And while hunger is circumscribed to specific areas, particularly conflict areas, obesity is everywhere. We are witnessing the globalization of obesity. For example: eight of the 20 countries in the world with the fastest rising rates of adult obesity are in Africa.

As you know, obesity is associated with many chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and some forms of cancer.

It costs about USD 2 trillion per year in direct healthcare and lost economic productivity. This is equivalent to the impact of smoking or the impact of armed conflicts.

So for a food to be completely safe for human consumption, it must also be healthy.

Ladies and gentlemen,

International trade is a very important tool for tackling hunger.

Many countries depend heavily on food imports to guarantee the availability of food for their people.  

But countries must also guarantee that internationally traded food is of good quality, safe and healthy.  

The Sustainable Development Goal number 2 is not only about eradicating hunger, but all forms of malnutrition.

Unfortunately, ultra-processed food fares better in international trade in terms of transportation and conservation.

And this has contributed to substantially increase the proportion of obese people in countries that import most of their food, such as the Pacific and Caribbean Islands.

In some Pacific Islands, for example, obesity rates range from more than 30% of the population as in Fiji to 80% among women in American Samoa.

In at least 10 Pacific island countries, more than 60% of the population is overweight. In some islands, this proportion goes to 90%.

In the Caribbean, some countries like Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and Antigua and Barbuda present levels of obesity of about 35% of the population.

Furthermore, countries such as Mexico and Vietnam have registered an increasing consumption of unhealthy foods and beverages after adhering to free-trade agreements and also removing restrictions on foreign direct investment.

The international trade and the high consumption of ultra-processed food is a great concern that must be addressed properly, based on the fact that obesity is a public health issue and not merely a consequence of individual choices.

The international community must advance the establishment of rules and regulations that aptly encourage the consumption of healthy and nutritious foods.

Last December, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on Global Health and Foreign Policy, indicating the progress of food systems as a global health issue.

The resolution calls upon countries to promote healthy diets and lifestyles through action and policies, including the implementation of all nutrition-related commitments.

Let me quote the resolution:

“We call upon Member States to promote healthy diets and lifestyles through actions and policies, as appropriate, to implement all nutrition-related commitments, including those made by Heads of State and Government at the high-level meetings of the General Assembly on non-communicable diseases, as well as the World Health Assembly, aiming at minimizing the impact of the main risk factors for non-communicable diseases, and to address malnutrition in all its forms by intensifying their efforts and scaling up their activities under the work programme of the United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition (2016–2025).” End quote.

I believe this resolution is the first step of a long way forward in establishing international regulation for healthy diets.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The adoption of clear food safety standards is also fundamental to promote healthy food systems globally.

Food safety standards are also important for ensuring fair trade practices and stable food supplies and prices.

The Codex Alimentarius is the single most relevant international reference point for food standards.

If every government applied different food standards, trade would be more costly.
And it would be much more difficult to ensure that the traded food is safe, nutritious and meets consumers’ expectations.

Codex has worked on food safety and trade for over 50 years. It has developed hundreds of internationally agreed standards, norms and codes of practice.

I am confident that we will deepen our collaboration even further to strengthen the Codex Alimentarius. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

To conclude, I would like to emphasize that FAO is highly committed to work with all countries and partners to promote sustainable food systems, and to ensure that traded food is safe, healthy and nutritious.

This conference takes us one-step closer to our goal.

There is no food security without food safety and healthy diets.

I wish you a fruitful meeting, and look forward to the results of your deliberations.

Thank you for your kind attention.