Ensuring Safety: A Holistic Approach to Sustainable Food Systems
Putting food on the table is often the culmination of an intricate journey involving many stakeholders and a lot of hard work. This effort is made daily on a global scale, and it defines our lives. It can also impact our lives if the food is not safe for consumption. Contaminants, which make food unsafe, can enter our food supply all through the value chain, and their presence is hard to detect. Like most efforts around food, it needs a coordinated, systems-based approach to manage the risks effectively.
Taking a Food Systems approach acknowledges the contributions and considerations of different subsystems that affect food. These range from production subsystems, trade systems, energy systems and waste management systems among many others. The significance of this concept culminated in the inaugural UN Food Systems Summit in 2021, where The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition led the Action Track 1 (AT1), “Ensuring Access to Safe and Nutritious Food for All.”
Sustainable food systems provide food for current and future generations. This system is all within the context of diminishing resources, new innovations and opportunities and increasing demand. Shaping food systems to be more sustainable requires an understanding they interact with the economic, societal and natural environments that underpin them. Systems are sustainable when these environments are preserved, or better, enhanced, by food system initiatives.
The sustainability of food systems impacts food safety (and vice versa), whether it’s climate change increasing certain food safety risks, or cheap but unsafe food finding its way to the economic poor. And the risks are high. According to WHO, foodborne diseases kill 420,000 people a year, predominantly affecting children under five, the elderly and other vulnerable groups. Billions of dollars a year are also lost through lost labor and health costs.
Tackling food safety at a global level requires a balanced approach of encouraging the adoption of best practices and fostering a food safety culture to protect food products and trade, while also providing support through the development and enforcement of appropriate regulations and standards. Both these approaches can take on and champion strategies to make food systems more sustainable. Adopting food safety practices, such as better handling practices, reduces contaminants on food but also helps reduce food loss, making food more available and keeping it out of waste streams. Food safety standards can also be developed in a way that is not burdensome to bottom-of-the-pyramid food enterprises while ensuring improved food safety. They can guide the use of natural resources so that their use is sustainable and safe.
EatSafe is playing its part in the area of traditional markets and food safety. Operating in Nigeria and Ethiopia, EatSafe is testing food safety interventions that stimulate consumer demand for safe food and improved vendor practices. This work is guided by formative research that helped characterize the economic, societal and natural environments and guide the design of the interventions for the best chance of delivering safer food and healthier diets while supporting the development of more sustainable food systems.
For more information, check out Feed The Future’s EatSafe: Evidence and Action Towards Safe, Nutritious Food (EatSafe) Activity Page on Agrilinks.
This blog was made possible through support provided by Feed The Future through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), under the terms of Agreement #7200AA19CA00010. The opinions expressed herein are those of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.