Experts Call for Improvements to Food Safety Management Systems in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Food safety hazards are increasingly recognised as a global health problem; however, they receive minimal policy attention and investment in many developing countries due to a lack of understanding towards the costs of unsafe food as well as the benefits of preventative measures, according to the World Bank.

In its recent report titled The Safe Food Imperative: Accelerating Progress in Low- and Middle-Income Countries, the group sheds light on the growing threat of unsafe food and outlines key strategies that low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) can adopt to avoid the burden of foodborne diseases (FBDs).

LMICs in these regions are estimated to account for 53 per cent of FBDs, 75 per cent of deaths and 72 per cent of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) related to FBDs. In terms of economic cost, the total productivity loss and medical expenses associated with FBDs in LMICs is estimated at about US$110 billion a year.

Such concerns become more crucial in transitioning lower-middle-income countries as they experience rapid demographic and dietary changes. This leads to the rise in food safety hazards, which typically overwhelm existing food safety management capacities.

The report further attributes the growing burden to underdeveloped food safety management systems, particularly in the public sector. LMICs also fail to empower and incentivise the private sector to deliver higher standards of food safety.

The largest gaps between existing food safety management capabilities and what are actually needed are found in lower-middle-income countries, whose populations are increasingly exposed to related hazards and where public confidence towards food safety is also falling.

However, the World Bank notes that a significant proportion of the burden of unsafe food can be avoided through comprehensive and practical improvements along the food value chain.

In line with this, the report highlights that improving food safety will bring about immense benefits and play a crucial role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined by the United Nations (UN).

To tackle the challenges faced by LMICs, the report emphasises the need for the safety of food to become a “shared responsibility” between the public and private sectors. This approach will require governments to take on roles that are more facilitative in nature, thus encouraging investments and behavioural change from all stakeholders along the food value chain.

The World Bank adds that the inclusive concept of food safety management will require a paradigm shift in how regulations are implemented. Instead of the traditional authoritative model, government efforts should focus on providing support and resources to assist compliance.

Additionally, the report notes that governments of LMICs need to invest more efficiently in food safety. Greater priority should be placed on forward-looking strategies that are grounded in science-based evidence and that would be able to boost human capital as well as improve producer and consumer awareness and knowledge towards the issue.

According to Steven Jaffee, Lead Agriculture Economist at the World Bank and study co-author, “This means investing in foundational knowledge, human resources, and infrastructure; realising synergies among investments in food safety, human health, and environmental protection; and using public investment to leverage private investment.”

With food safety being one of the four core pillars, FIA seeks to improve food safety capacity building in the region to protect food supply chains for the benefit of consumers, businesses and governments.

In order to spark greater discussions on the issue, FIA will be organising a Lunch Series session on 19 February in collaboration with the World Bank, which will focus on the rising burden of food safety in LMICs and shed light on how multi-sectoral collaborations can drive future solutions.

Leading experts in the food safety field will be in attendance, including Steven Jaffee, Lead Agriculture Economist with the World Bank’s Agriculture Global Practice; Bruce Blakeman, Vice President of Corporate Affairs Asia Pacific at Cargill; Dr Ralph Graichen, Director of Food and Nutrition at A*STAR's Biomedical Research Council; Shashi Sareen, an international food safety advisor and consultant, and Jiang Yi Fan, Head of Science and Regulatory Affairs at FIA.

Registration for the Lunch Series session is now open

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