GSO Intern Report — On Food Safety, by Megan Anderson, Kent State University

The World Health Organization (WHO) is certainly taking the initiative on a big issue in today’s society: food safety. In fact, World Health Day, which recently took place on the seventh of April, had a focus on this particular issue with the appropriate slogan— “From farm to plate, make food safe.”

WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan noted how significant the issues of food safety and, consequently, foodborne illness are with regard to both outbreaks and potential epidemics. Looking at the supply chain of the food industry itself, it is evident how a food safety issue in one place can become an issue of international proportions. Shipments are made all over the world from just one source. With the many subsidies of the food and agricultural industries, as well as individual producers, there are numerous opportunities for unsafe food practices to occur with global ramifications.

The WHO emphasizes the need for active participation of the public in reducing unsafe food practices. Reading food labels that detail the necessary precautions that are needed in food preparation are of special importance at the consumer level. Risk reduction initiatives can be useful at the national and global levels in controlling large-scale contamination problems with chemical and microbial agents. Pesticides and bacteria are two widespread examples.

Dr. Kazuaki Miyagishima, Director of the WHO department responsible for food safety made a point that “it often takes a crisis for the collective consciousness on food safety to be stirred and any serious response to be taken.” This is undoubtedly accurate, especially in what we have seen in the past with other similar health issues. The WHO is pursuing an analysis on the global burden of foodborne disease with results expected by October of this year. The African region is an area of specific concern, reporting the highest burden of enteric disease in past years.

I think it is especially important to highlight this issue and wise to make this the topic of choice as the world is becoming increasingly more globalized. The slogan encompasses the impact that each constituent involved in getting food from the producer to the plate of the consumer has on food safety. It will take many different entities working together to make a difference as well as multi-stakeholder collaboration from both the private and public sectors to raise awareness of the issue. It is possible, and I believe that the WHO is taking the necessary steps to achieve this goal. See the WHO news release on this topic here. Megan’s in-depth report on this and related issues is available on www.gsogeneva.ch.