Global Food Safety Partnership
Food Safety is becoming a priority in Zambia. The government is revising its food safety strategy and preparing new legislation to improve and modernize food safety governance. In the private sector, a number of food enterprises are upgrading their food safety practices to stay on par with their peers abroad and cater to increasingly demanding consumers.
These improvements are timely and appropriate. While the extent of foodborne risks in Zambia isn’t fully known, recurrent cholera and typhoid outbreaks as well as the fact that 60 percent of the population suffers from diarrhea suggest that foodborne pathogens, poor hygiene and sanitation and other food safety risks are having a negative impact. Anecdotal information supports this point. In conversations with partners in Zambia, over a cup of coffee or dinner, I asked what they thought could cause diarrhea? Most of them responded that it was probably something they ate. They complained that while diarrhea was not a “big deal,” and that “their stomachs were used to bacteria,” it reduced productivity because they had to take sick days away from work. Aside from causing a high death rate among children and the elderly, these diseases place a significant burden on straining public health services, reduce the productivity of the working population and constrain development. Furthermore, the economic and human costs of these diseases are huge.
There is clear and present danger that another global food price crisis will emerge sooner than later.
A key signal is the lackluster result of the December 2013 Ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Bali, Indonesia - in the heart of the ASEAN community.
The compromises arising from the WTO Bali meeting further demonstrates that many WTO member-nations have returned to a focus on internal domestic politics, sacrificing long-term gains shared across nations, in favor of short-term gains motivated largely by domestic political survival or sheer short-sightedness.
In the lead up to the holidays, much will be written about how we, as consumers, can safely prepare food to ensure that friends and family remember a wonderful holiday meal and not the bout of food poisoning that landed a loved one in the emergency room.
But it often strikes me that other major threats to food safety – those that lie undetected in farms and factories and other vulnerable points along the food supply chain – are not part of the conversation until tainted food surfaces in grocery stores and on dinner plates, making millions sick and even killing people along the way.
As global headlines have illustrated – packaged salads in the United States, sprouts in Germany, milk and infant formula in China – food safety is a serious issue that affects all of us: individuals, nations, and businesses. No country is immune, and as global agri-food value chains become more integrated, food safety hazards that were once geographically confined can now span countries and continents with ease.