The issue of food safety in developing markets is attracting increasing attention at GFSI and other organisations that concern themselves with the well-being of consumers, and for good reason — unsafe food costs low- and middle-income countries about $110 billion in lost productivity and medical expenses each year. In order to reduce this colossal loss, the World Bank and collaborating partners have prepared a guide to improving food safety titled The Safe Food Imperative: Accelerating Progress in Low- and Middle-Income Countries, which will be shared in summary form at the GFSI Conference this February.
In many low- and middle-income countries, food safety is a regulatory afterthought, only receiving fleeting attention during outbreaks of foodborne disease. To that end, The Safe Food Imperative is geared primarily towards policymakers, but its emphasis on the concept that food safety is a shared responsibility among business, government and consumers applies to everyone in the GFSI community. Furthermore, its practical, often low-cost suggestions for behaviour and infrastructure changes may prove useful for manufacturers, retailers and others involved in these countries’ complex food chains.
As we outline in the document, governments in low- and middle-income countries not only need to invest more in food safety but also more smartly. This means supporting foundational knowledge, human resources and infrastructure; realizing synergies among investments in food safety, human health and environmental protection; and using public investment to leverage private investment. Public-private partnerships like those fostered by GFSI are key to this savvy approach to building food safety capacity. We provide tailored recommendations for investing and capacity-building for countries at different stages of economic development.
Industry curriculums like the Global Markets Programme are one promising area that governments can use to help small- to medium-sized enterprises improve food safety. We point directly to the Global Markets Programme in the study, encouraged by the success of collaborative GFSI programmes for training small- and medium-sized enterprises in China, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, among other countries. We have observed that incremental approaches to food safety tend to be more effective than regulatory ‘sticks’, and the stepwise process towards certification outlined in the Global Markets Programme provides a framework for this continuous improvement.
Howsoever policymakers choose to adapt their food safety regulations to rapid demographic shifts, dietary changes and other emerging risks, the results of regulation should be measured in terms of compliant enterprises, confident consumers and food safety outcomes rather than the number of fines or business closures. As my colleague Juergen Voegele, Senior Director of the Food and Agriculture Global Practice at the World Bank, notes: “By focusing on domestic food safety more deliberately, countries can strengthen the competitiveness of their farmers and food industry and develop their human capital. After all, safe food is essential to fuel a healthy, educated, and resilient workforce.”
The Safe Food Imperative: Accelerating Progress in Low- and Middle-Income Countries was supported by the US Food and Drug Administration. It is a collaborative effort involving multiple researchers and practitioners and draws on data and insights from the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, the World Organisation for Animal Health, and other partners. To learn more about the study and read a summary, visit the GFSI booth at the conference in February.
This post was written and contributed by:
Lead Agriculture Economist