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Caribbean countries and organizations call for integration, legislation and collaboration on World Food Safety Day


The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), the Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Agency (CAHFSA) and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) co-organized a World Food Safety Day online event that took place on Monday 6 June.

Representatives of each agency explained how their organization is involved in ensuring food safety across the subregion and a round table discussion then took place, with contributors from different sectors and different nations of the Caribbean.

The event was coordinated by PANAFTOSA-VPH-PAHO/WHO and moderated by Margarita Corrales. The first speaker was Lisa Indar, Director of Surveillance, Disease Prevention and Control at CARPHA. Indar started by saying that responses to foodborne disease require “integrated foodborne disease surveillance”, and that this event was an acknowledgement of the need for that integrated response. She talked listeners through the different types of surveillance CARPHA carries out, including syndromic surveillance, disease-specific surveillance, outbreak surveillance, One Health and travellers’ health surveillance and, in collaboration with PAHO/WHO, surveillance integrated with climate change and AMR.

Chief Executive Officer of CAHFSA, Gavin Peters, then emphasised the important messaging of this year’s theme, “safer food, better health”. He underlined his conviction that when it comes to food safety you can’t have good results from bad practices: “I believe what you put in is what you get out”, he said. He noted a welcome regionwide increase in agricultural production, but said that at CAHFSA, there is a desire to encourage farmers, producers and manufacturers along the chain to “do it right, follow standards” so that at the end of the chain, products are safe for local consumption and then, also, for trade.

Marisa Caipo,Food Safety and Quality Officer of the Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) commented that food safety is a science-based discipline and aims to have food that is safe to eat. “When food is not safe,” she said, “people cannot thrive, hunger and poverty cannot be alleviated, and a healthy life is not possible. Ottorino Cosivi from PANAFTOSA-VPH-PAHO/WHO noted that World Food Safety Day was an initiative of the FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO) and that the Day reminds us that food safety is everyone’s business. Caribbean countries are vulnerable to foodborne disease, he said, because the effects of climate change mean that crops get destroyed, flooding leads to disease and antimicrobial resistance rises. This, on top of the dependency of every Caribbean nation on food imports. PANAFTOSA-VPH-PAHO/WHO works with countries to develop robust food control systems, but the hurricane season is coming and that means there’s a need to be extra vigilant in ensuring the safety of food and water supplies.

Finally, WOAH’s Martin Minassian explained that WOAH takes a food chain approach, but that the chain must also include ensuring animals are healthy so they can be a source of safe food. WOAH works closely with the Codex Alimentarius and is one agency within the quadripartite of the FAO, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), WHO and WOAH. Collaboration is key at all levels.

The round table discussion was moderated by Laura-Lee Boodram and included panellists Juliette Colli-Wongsoredjo, from the Suriname fisheries division, Nikita Sobers from the Guyana Food Safety Authority, Neil Rampersad, Chief Public Health Inspector, Trinidad and Tobago, Dorothy Campbell, from the Consumer Affairs Commission of Jamaica and Suzan McLennon Miguel CAHFSA’s food safety specialist.

The panel discussed their respective positions on the relevance of food safety issues to them, the main food safety challenges in the Caribbean and what actions are need for safer food, better health. From their differing perspectives, the panel talked about the responsibilities of government to pass legislation and establish food safety authorities in countries. It doesn’t stop there, though, said Colli-Wongsoredjo, as legislation doesn’t work without inspection and, for inspection, there is a need for validation. Not all countries, she said, have capacities for that. However, she pointed out that when it comes to food standards, Codex Members can, at least, draw on Codex standards to aid the legislative process. Rampersad cited a specific issue of poor food safety standards in street food vending and, especially, night vending. However, Campbell cautioned that to create a food safety ethos around street food which, she reminded the speakers, is a deeply important aspect of Caribbean culture, it is important to take training to the street vendors: they are trying to earn a living and don’t have time to go on training courses.

McLennon Miguel finished the session with what she called a “take home message”: we need to work together. We know the problems, it’s important to learn from each other to find the solutions. Producers, processors and consumers need to be empowered with food safety knowledge to prevent foodborne disease.

Watch the recording