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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition • FSN Forum

Re: Maximizing the Impact of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition

J.B. Cordaro
J.B. CordaroPrivate Sector Consultant, Food Security, Nutrition and Food Safety and QualityUnited States of America

The Decade of Action on Nutrition

Ensuring Safer Food for All People


The Decade of Action on Nutrition is urged to embed food safety as a critical component at the highest level of importance within its agenda to ensure access to safe, affordable, nutritious food at all times for all people.

Food safety problems: Statistics and human health, social and economic impacts

Unsafe, contaminated food seriously undermines the food systems of every country and thwarts efforts to achieve food security and improve the nutritional status and well-being of vulnerable populations. Unsafe foods are significant and pervasive causes of food insecurity that touch almost every Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), especially SDGs 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 12, 13 and 17.  Unsafe foods contribute to the persistence of poverty, hunger, malnutrition, diseases and premature deaths, especially among women. Unsafe foods impede trade, economic opportunities, and human development for farmers and burden health care systems. Unsafe foods are as significant a silent killer as micronutrient deficiencies, but unfortunately have received little attention from global policy making bodies.

Six food safety challenge areas--physical, chemical and biological hazards; food preparation and handling; and mycotoxins, especially aflatoxins--persist in one form or another among all income levels in every country. Global food safety data from WHO, FAO and other national data sources align to illustrate a gloomy global picture of the safety status of the world’s food supply. For example, FAO estimates that up to 25% of key food crops are contaminated by mycotoxins and WHO’s global burden of disease statistics highlight why food safety problems must be addressed immediately. The FAO and WHO report that over 4.5 billion people suffer human health, social and economic consequences from unsafe foods annually as illustrated in these compelling facts:

  • 600 million people fall ill after eating contaminated food;
  • Human and health impacts of cancers, anaemia, stunting and cognitive degradation are linked to 420,000 annual deaths, largely in Africa and among children under 5;
  • 33 million healthy years of livelihood are lost and not fulfilled;
  • 40% of food borne disease burdens are inflicted on children under 5 years, leading to 125,000 deaths while survivors bear a lifetime of cognitive deficiency from  stunting;
  • Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for the highest number of aflatoxin related liver cancers, especially among women;
  • Small holder farmers are unable to break the cycle of poverty as incomes remain depressed from unmarketable and rejected contaminated commodities; and
  • Unsafe foods contribute to the global food loss and waste stream, creating environmental stresses and economic consequences.

Unfulfilled linkages among food security, nutrition and food safety 

The food safety landscape is more challenging than 20 years ago. Food safety management struggles to keep pace with the growing globalization of the food supply chains. Climate change is introducing new threats from pathogens, adulteration, and mycotoxins, especially aflatoxins, in areas that were previously less at risk as population growth stresses international food trade.

The time to act was a decade or so ago, making immediate action today even more urgent, However, time remains for the Decade of Action for Nutrition to use its mandate as an umbrella platform to involve other UN entities, such as FAO, WHO, IFAD, UNIDO, CODEX Alimentarius, WFP, and SCN as well as multi-sector, multi-disciplinary stakeholders to collaborate in identifying solution pathways for more, safer foods that will enhance nutrition and food security.  

Food Safety: the orphan food security pillar

Food safety is essential to alleviate hunger, malnutrition and poverty and is one of the leading indicators to improve food security and adequate nutrition. In other words, where food safety increases, food security improves.  Solution pathways exist to raise the food safety bar, manage the harmful impacts from unsafe foods and prevent and address hazards early in the supply chain. Likewise, the use of appropriate agro-machinery, technology, equipment, and good agricultural practices will be critical to improve food safety and ensure adequate productivity.  The sustainability of these solution pathways will depend on building institutional and individual capacities and appropriate policy frameworks that ensure adequate amounts of safe and nutritious foods are moved from the farm to the consumers. Food systems and the food safety regulatory framework must include rigorous food safety management and assessment capabilities that detect and pinpoint problems at critical control points. Highlighting the need and value for establishing cadres of trained food safety and quality experts and agricultural extension workers—from the farm to the household—is essential for building and sustaining these systems.

No single entity can achieve the outcomes needed to move the needle towards ensuring more safe food at all times for all people with effective and sustainable progress. Thus, partnerships are essential for sustainable outcomes. National and regional success is dependent upon forging holistic multi-sector, multi-disciplinary partnerships with UN agencies, national governments, NGOs, and other stakeholders including business, to harness their tools, capabilities, innovations and expertise. Bold, global leadership is required to stimulate actions to address food safety challenges immediately. The Decade of Action on Nutrition can simulate actions and policies to enhance the likelihood of achieving the UN Secretary General’s goal of ending hunger and malnutrition by 2030.

In sum, unsafe foods are significant and pervasive global challenges that attack the human faces of nutrition, health, well-being and development in the daily lives of billions of people.  Unsafe foods impact access to nutrition, better health and improved economic status. Risks are prevalent throughout the food supply chain from production, harvesting, transportation, processing, storage, and manufacturing and at the consumer level. Food contamination is a significant, preclusive barrier to eliminating food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition and thwarts other development efforts.


Food safety presents a global development challenge. Compelling social, economic and human statistics demonstrate that unless the negative consequences of food safety are managed that national development and nutritional improvement will be effectively thwarted and other development efforts will be wasted.

The UN Decade of Action on Nutrition is encouraged to embed food safety as a priority agenda item that encourages UN agencies and other stakeholders to take the necessary steps to improve the safety of food for consumption and better nutrition, reduce the harmful impacts of unsafe food and help enhance the likelihood of supporting elements of several SDGs.