FeaturedNationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 32-33

World food safety day and its relevance to Pakistan

World Food Safety Day is observed every year on June 7. The World Health Organization proposed this day for calling the attention of people worldwide to the risks of contaminated food and water and spreading the word about ways to reduce the risks of foodborne illness, including food poisoning.

What is food safety? Food safety is the absence of safe, acceptable levels of hazards in food that may harm the consumers. Food-borne hazards can be both chemical and physical in nature and are often invisible to the naked eye. World Food Safety Day is aimed at raising awareness about the importance of prevention, detection, and management of risks along the entire chain of food safety practices, promoting debates and solutions to improve human health, trade, agriculture and sustainable development.

The United Nations has assigned two of its agencies, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to lead efforts in promoting food safety around the world. The Food and Agriculture Organization had decided to celebrate 7th June as the first food safety day since 2019. A resolution was adopted on December 20, 2018, by the United Nations General Assembly to mark June 7 as the day “celebrating the myriad benefits of safe food”. The World Health Assembly (WHA) passed a resolution on August 3, 2020, declaring June 7 the World Food Safety Day every year. The first-ever World Food Safety Day was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2018. The theme of the first-ever Food Safety Day 2019 was “Food Safety, everyone’s business”.

Eating safe food is everyone’s right. Safe food guarantees good health. Unsafe foods are the cause of various diseases and contribute to other poor health conditions, including impaired growth and development, micronutrient deficiencies, communicable or non-communicable diseases, and mental illness. According to WHO, one in ten people is affected by foodborne diseases annually across the world.

Every year, 600 million people fall sick due to the 200 different types of illnesses that can be transmitted by food. Young people and populations with limited resources are among the most vulnerable. Foodborne illnesses cause 420,000 preventable deaths every year. Children below 5 years of age are at a higher risk. Poverty-ridden sections are more prone to illnesses due to unhygienic food consumption. Unsafe food also hampers development in many low- and middle-income economies, which lose around US$ 110 billion in productivity associated with disability, illness, and premature death of the workers.

The Food and Agriculture Organization has designated “Food Standards Save Lives” as the theme for 2023. This year’s theme coincides with the 60th anniversary of Codex Alimentarius, a collection of food standards, guidelines and codes of practice adopted by the international Codex Alimentarius Commission to encourage governments and food safety advocates around the world to focus on the importance of applying safety standards at every stage of food production—from the source to the dining table.

This year’s theme “Food Standards Save Lives” is aimed at providing farmers and processors necessary guidelines on the hygienic handling of food, apart from defining maximum levels of additives and contaminants, among other components, that can be safely consumed. Governments, organizations, and regional or intergovernmental bodies are responsible for setting such standards and enforcing them. The Codex Alimentarius Commission, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, is one of the bodies responsible for setting international food safety and quality standards. This year’s theme is also aimed at recognizing the importance of food standards across the world in keeping consumers safe, and in underpinning an equitable trade in healthy food.

Corinna Hawkes, Director of the FAO Food Systems and Food Safety Division, in a special message on World Food Safety Day this year said: “FAO supports countries to transform agrifood systems so that they benefit people and the planet,” noting that policymakers, practitioners and investors should reorient their activities to increase the sustainable production and consumption of safe foods for people everywhere.

World Food Safety Day is of special relevance to Pakistan where thousands of people die every year due to consumption of contaminated food. There is little awareness in our society about food safety. Adulteration is a common practice among producers and suppliers of food items. The principal aim of World Food Safety Day is to encourage everyone, from the producer to the consumer, to adopt and expect food safety standards along the entire food supply chain. This will help reduce food-borne diseases which are common in Pakistan, especially in the rural areas.