Despite the growing recognition of food safety as a public health priority and as an essential requirement for food trade, investment to ensure safety of the food supply is still often limited and not well planned in many developing countries.
This is not just due to a lack of, or limited financial resources but more often a poor understanding of food safety and its implications, which often results in a downgrading of food safety to “low priority” in the national political agenda. While many countries are cognizant of the need to increase food production to assure food security, policies also need to be in place to ensure the foods supplied are safe and nutritious.
When developing food safety policies, a range of factors can come into play including international regulations and accepted approaches, private sector and consumer interests and requirements, political will and socio-economic issues in addition to science and risk assessments. Considering and balancing these factors will be country-specific and in order to ensure the ultimate decision is transparent, stakeholders should have a common understanding of how different issues and evidence were considered and any trade-offs made. Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis processes have been used quite extensively in health and environment sectors, with emerging interest for food safety decision and policy-making. FAO is currently working to pilot a methodology considering relevant factors to prioritise food safety issues (Uganda) and selecting risk management options (Thailand).
Understanding the potential for the application of Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis processes in countries with challenges on data availability, limited processes for stakeholder input to decision-making, and so on, is an important foundation for the development of FAO guidance for food safety decision-making using best available evidence for transparent decision-making (this work is funded by the Improved Global Governance for Hunger Reduction Programme and implemented by FAO.) Resulting policies should establish a clear leadership function and administrative structures with clearly defined accountability. Approaches pursued by many countries include the development and implementation of an integrated national food control strategy to enforce systems of control, secure funds and allocate resources.
Policy advice work also supports national institutions to effectively invest, design and manage food control programmes. We support member countries by advising national governments on policies and regulatory frameworks for food safety/quality management that determine national food safety measures and controls, and support compliance with international food safety requirements, particularly those of the Codex Alimentarius.