The Crucial Role of Governance in Ensuring Food Safety
This post is written by Ntombizethu Mkhwanazi, Tracy Muwanga and Lise Korsten.
Food safety continues to be a critical subject in the realm of food security and holds significant importance in terms of food governance. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) emphasises the fundamental principle that "if it is not safe, it is not food." Echoing this sentiment, FAO’s Former Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva emphasized that "there is no food security without food safety." This assertion underscores the vital role that food safety plays in the entire food supply chain.
Food safety is the practice of preventing food from becoming contaminated and causing harm to consumers. It involves ensuring that food is safe to consume by following good manufacturing, agricultural and food-handling practices. This includes ensuring that food is stored, handled and prepared in a way that prevents it from becoming contaminated. It is important to note that food safety is everyone’s responsibility and not of farmers and food processors, or those involved in transportation, retail and food services, but everyone. Poor food safety can lead to food waste, economic losses and widespread public health issues. Despite its significance, food safety often goes unnoticed or underappreciated.
This year, on June 7, we celebrated the 5th World Food Safety Day. As we celebrated this day, the aim was also to raise awareness and inspire action to help prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks, contributing to food security, human health, economic prosperity, agriculture, market access, tourism and sustainable development.
World Food Safety Day is an important reminder of the importance of food safety and the need to ensure that food is safe for everyone. It is also a reminder that everyone, from farmers to consumers, has a responsibility to ensure the safety of food. By practicing good food safety habits, we can help prevent foodborne illnesses and ensure that food is safe for everyone. With this year’s World Food Safety Day theme, “Food standards save lives,” food standards help to ensure that the food we eat is safe and of good quality. They guide how to handle, store and process food to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses and other health-related issues. Implementing food safety standards also helps protect the environment and ensure the sustainability of our food sources. It is noteworthy to acknowledge the importance of having strong governance systems in place that ensure best practices and feasible food safety standards for the informal sector.
Governance is essential for ensuring that food safety standards are in place and being followed. This means having strong regulatory frameworks and systems in place to ensure that food is produced, stored and handled safely and hygienically. It also requires the enforcement of these standards to ensure that food safety is consistently maintained.
The governance of food safety involves a concern with rules, standards and regulations set by the state that control and influence aspects of food safety conduct and practices. Busch (2000) is confident that standards are not suitable tools for organizing markets and reducing transaction costs, but rather “reflect much more fundamental social/technical relations that are essential to the establishment and regulation of social and ethical behavior in capitalist markets.” In other words, standards are a means for fixing power relations in place. Standards might be conceived as working to form subjectivities for actors from fields to supermarkets to kitchens to tables that can be orchestrated, or conducted, to follow a relatively stable pattern.
The importance of food safety governance is reflected in its inclusion in the international legal framework. For example, the World Trade Organization includes food safety as a fundamental component of its agreements. Additionally, the Codex Alimentarius, a set of internationally recognized standards, guides how food safety should be managed and implemented.
The University of Pretoria hosts the Department of Science, Technology and Innovation/National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence (CoE) Food Security with a focus on food safety in the informal sector. The project also includes a food control, governance, regulation angle for effective systems development. Science development for policy change is a key development program for the University of Pretoria CoE under the auspices of Prof Lise Korsten and her research team.