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Asia-Pacific WFSD webinar focuses on multi-sectoral actions and improving food safety in fresh food markets


World Food Safety Day was observed in the Asia Pacific region on 3 June 2022 through a webinar organized jointly by FAO, UNEP, WFP, WHO and WOAH. The theme of the webinar was “Multisectoral action needed to raise awareness and promote action on food safety’’. The event highlighted the importance of food safety within the larger context of food systems and particularly with reference to the achievement of SDGs 2, 3, 12  and 17. It then homed in on the issues of food safety in fresh food markets with a distinguished panel from four countries sharing their perspectives and best practices.

Chantanee Buranathai WOAH (the new name of OIE) delivered her opening remarks underlining the need for a One Health approach to food safety. This was followed by an interactive MENTI quiz by Basilio Valdeheusa, WOAH’s Regional Communication Officer.

Makiko Yashiro, Regional Coordinator for the Nature Action Programme, UNEP Asia and the Pacific Office set the scene with a presentation onfood systems, food safety and the environment. She pointed out that the Food Systems Summit that took place last autumn discussed ways of developing more sustainable food systems. She drew the links between food safety and contaminants and toxins in the environment and the necessity of the food system approach. The way we produce and consume food now causes contamination. “We need food safety not just for human health,” she said, “but also for the health of the planet”.

Gyanendra Gongal, Senior Public Health Officer WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia, noted that traditional markets form part of the social fabric of communities across the region. However, these markets have poor levels of hygiene and sanitation and pose a hazard to public health instead of offering a pleasant food shopping experience to millions of consumers. Unsanitary conditions can lead to foodborne diseases and COVID-19 is suspected to have emerged in a fresh market.  As such, he said, WHO has developed a set of best practices for reducing the risk of foodborne diseases in markets.

The panel discussion was moderated by Sridhar Dharmapuri, Senior Food Safety and Nutrition Officer at the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. It was constructed as a “knowledge-sharing session” where contributors shared experiences and lessons of managing food safety in traditional food markets and these could be useful for countries across the region.

Sukanta Chowdhury, Team Leader of the Zoonotic Diseases Research Group at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Diseases Research in Bangladesh, was asked about experiences in and the importance of traditional food markets in Bangladesh, especially in reference to live birds. He said that in Bangladesh, many traditional markets are in urban areas, where people buy and sell fruits, vegetables, meat and live birds. He said that his research shows that in these markets, “air samples are heavily contaminated with influenza viruses”. He has played a part in making recommendations to the authorities regarding improved personal hygiene in markets as well as ideal infrastructural changes.

Eric Tai and Henry Ng from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department in China, Hong Kong SAR went into some detail about the control and prevention measures they have put in place regarding avian flu, which include rigorous testing and sampling of live birds on farms and in markets, as well as the collection and testing of dead birds. Markets now have to comply with strict regulations on the sale of live birds and on hygiene practices. The regulations adopted are the result of a collaborative approach at the ministerial level, where government departments and academia work together.

Naiyana Chaitiemwong, Director of the Centre for International Cooperation in the Ministry of Public Health, Thailand talked about new regulations that have been adopted in Thailand that promote the development of a “healthy market” ethos. Noting that traditional markets were struggling to compete with supermarkets across the country, she said that new regulations have helped improve hygiene standards at the 1 280 traditional markets across the country. She said 80-90 percent of markets have now been certified by the regulatory authorities.

Regulation and legislation was also the main focus of the contribution from Ker Monthivuth, Director of Plant Protection at Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Cambodia has developed three key pieces of legislation in recent years, to promote Good Agricultural Practices, particularly in organic farming. This legislation means, he said, that “Cambodia can fast track competitiveness in trade”. He also said that “produce is increasingly safe in Cambodia … the framework resembles a One Health approach” where livelihoods and living conditions have improved.

 Jessica Kayamori Lopes, Technical Officer for Food Safety and Zoonotic Diseases at the WHO Pacific Regional Office who ably co-ordinated the proceedings of the webinar summarized the discussions.

The event addressed key global and local food safety challenges and discussed concerns about the impacts on the health of people and planet and also ways in which some authorities in the region are preventing and monitoring potential foodborne hazards in food markets.

Watch the event