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Inaugural UN observance draws attention to importance of safe food


Coordinated action on a global scale is necessary to ensure people’s right to safe, nutritious and sufficient food, officials agreed at the New York celebration of the first ever World Food Safety Day, jointly organized by the Permanent Mission of Costa Rica, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) on 7 June.

Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2018, the World Food Safety Day is commemorated annually on 7 June. The proposal was initiated in 2016 by Costa Rica through the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which is jointly managed by FAO and WHO.

World Food Safety Day is a unique opportunity to promote and inspire action to prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks, contributing to food security, human health, economic prosperity and sustainable development. The inaugural celebration carries the theme, “Food Safety is Everyone’s Business.”

At the celebration in New York, speakers explored ways to support efforts to improve food safety and how food safety can be used to incentivize healthy diets.

“Food safety is critical to ensure food security and nutrition and good health and is an enabler of many other goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” said Carla Mucavi, Director of the FAO Liaison Office in New York. “I would like to highlight also 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.”

''I invite delegations to take this opportunity to reflect, on the current and upcoming obstacles to obtain food safety around the world, as well as the importance of taking collective measures to avoid contamination of food,” said Rodrigo Alberto Carazo Zeledón, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations. “Also, it is crucial to improve global health, promote fair food trades, guarantee the access to food as well as to stress the importance of the safety and quality of food to foster sustainable development at all level.''

The event also shared the outcomes of two global events in the lead up to World Food Safety Day: the first International Food Safety Conference (12-13 February 2019, Addis Ababa) and the International Forum on Food Safety and Trade (23-24 April 2019, Geneva).

“Unsafe food is responsible for more than 400,000 deaths each year, affecting mostly women and children. Because of widespread under-reporting the global burden of food borne disease remained unknown until WHO published the first estimates in 2015,” said Werner Obermeyer, Deputy Executive Director of the WHO Office in New York. “World Food Safety Day is an important opportunity to leverage action among countries, the UN system, industry and consumers to address this challenge.”

Food safety is key to achieving several UN Sustainable Development Goals and is a shared responsibility between governments, producers and consumers. Everybody has a role to play from farm to table to ensure the food we consume is safe and will not cause damages to our health.

“This first World Food Safety Day is a recognition that when it comes to food safety, we all win or lose together. In a global food system and with the increase in international travel, as long as foodborne disease exists somewhere in the world, it can exist anywhere in the world,” said Frank Yiannas, Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “No nation stands alone when faced with the challenge of protecting its citizens from foodborne illnesses.”

The Chairperson of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, Guilherme da Costa, highlighted the need to create awareness on the importance of food safety. “We need to raise the visibility of the global and often invisible threat posed by foodborne diseases and reinforce the need for governments, the food industry and individuals to do more to make food safe and prevent these diseases. That is why today’s first World Food Safety Day is so important,” said Guilherme da Costa.

Yves Rey, former Chair of the Global Food Safety Initiative, said that a food revolution was underway and that it was time to work together to deliver safe and smart nutrition.

Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumer Reports, noted that individual consumers have a role to play in food safety but not alone, stressing the importance of entities that defend consumer interests.

The World Food Safety Day was moderated by food safety expert Awilo Ochieng Pernet and counted with the participation of representatives of the private sector and consumer organizations, that highlighted the role of different sectors in promoting food safety.