Caribbean on the move to ‘Safer Food, Better Health’

   Caribbean on the move to ‘Safer Food, Better Health’

Dr. Renata Clarke, FAO Sub-Regional Coordinator. Photo courtesy CARICOM Facebook Page.

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados--Though some may consider the theme for this year’s World Food Safety Day (WFSD) “Safer Food, Better Health” obvious, few know that an estimated 600 million – almost one in ten people in the world – fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420,000 die every year, states a press release from Caribbean Public Health Agency CARPHA. And startlingly, children under five years old carry forty per cent of the foodborne disease burden, with 125,000 deaths every year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), it adds.
The UN established WFSD in 2018 to raise awareness about food safety. Observed on June 7, World Food Safety Day initiatives are held to highlight how to prevent foodborne illnesses caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances that enter the body through contaminated food or water. However, to tackle this issue, better data are needed to understand the far-reaching impacts of unsafe food and document the capacity of Caribbean countries to respond to it, and in turn, develop climate-resilient food safety plans.
To this end, CARPHA is currently conducting a Climate Risks and Food Safety Baseline Assessment as part of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)-coordinated EU/CARIFORUM Strengthening Climate Resilient Health Systems in the Caribbean project, where CARIFORUM refers to the Caribbean Forum of African, Caribbean and Pacific States, according to the release.
“While the body of evidence is slowly growing on an international scale, work on climate change and food safety risks has not been well documented in the Caribbean Region, nor has the Caribbean’s ability to respond to climate-driven outbreak events been assessed. With a scarcity of information, the Caribbean will continue to remain vulnerable to the effects of climate change on food safety and security,” underscored Dr. Joy St. John, Executive Director at CARPHA.
This country assessment exercise seeks to determine the resilience of food/water safety and health- and agriculture-related sectors in response to the effects of climate change in CARIFORUM countries. Assessments of past national food safety plans have shown limited incorporation of climate resilience, but CARPHA and PAHO through this project will be reviewing and revising these plans with countries, factoring in climate adaptation and mitigation strategies, the release states.
Some of its objectives are to identify strengths, gaps and opportunities in the surveillance and outbreak investigation of food-borne diseases and food/water-borne hazards related to climate/weather events; identify reservoirs for food and water-borne disease pathogens; and to assess the capacity for implementing climate-integrated food-borne disease early-warning systems.
Out of a participating 10 countries, the majority have developed national food safety plans and country officials recognise the effects of climate change on national and regional food safety and security, as well as the increased future risks, according to the release. Within the health sector, emphasis will be placed on strengthening surveillance systems, including enhancing laboratory capacity for the detection of food-borne diseases.
Climate change events such as hurricanes, floods and droughts are also exerting pressure on food production systems in the Caribbean, making countries highly dependent on food imports and volatile prices, the release adds.
According to Center Director of the Pan American Center for Foot-and-Mouth Disease and Veterinary Public Health PANAFTOSA, Dr. Ottorino Cosivi, “Caribbean countries are particularly vulnerable to emerging diseases derived from climate change events. There is a delicate balance between the health of people, the health of animals and ecosystems. If the balance is broken, public health can be affected. There is an increasing need to build climate-resilient food systems under the One Health approach to ensure food safety along the food value chain and improve productivity in a sustainable manner,” Dr. Cosivi outlined.
Improving hygiene practices in the food and agricultural sectors also helps to reduce the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance along the food chain and in the environment, states the release. Dr. Renata Clarke, FAO Sub-Regional Coordinator underlined that the current focus of Caribbean heads of state on a regional approach to food security should extend to food safety.
“Food cannot flow efficiently among the countries if there is no mutual confidence in the systems of food safety control applied by industry and national regulators within each jurisdiction. An ongoing FAO project is enabling countries to carry out systematic assessments of their food-control systems that allow countries to recognise areas of weakness and to plan effectively to address them. It promotes transparency, trust and ultimately streamlines controls that make trade easier without compromising food safety. The spirit of World Food Safety Day is to bring home the message that ‘food safety is everyone’s business. It is not just about what governments and industries can do. There is much that consumers must do as well,” Dr. Clarke emphasised.
She noted that food systems are dynamic, and this makes food safety dynamic: “There needs to be constant vigilance to ensure that our food safety system is keeping pace with changes provoked by climate change, by technology and by changing lifestyles.”
The Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Agency (CAHFSA) is the Caribbean Community CARICOM’s inter-governmental agency, mandated to coordinate and organise actions to enhance, strengthen and harmonise the regional sanitary and phytosanitary mechanisms, the release adds.
“Food is a basic human right; no single country can solve existing or emerging food safety challenges. The solution: all countries must work together to put food safety measures in place. We must move as one, united together with one goal: to provide safer food and better health,” stated Dr. Suzan McLennon-Miguel, CAHFSA’s Food Safety Specialist.
She called on all stakeholders and consumers to become educated on food safety. Additionally, she commended the FAO, PAHO/World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organization for Animal Health OIE for providing scientific food safety guidelines imperative for better health. “CAHFSA stands ready to work with these organisations and other Caribbean regional partners to guide and strengthen each country to harmonise its food safety systems,” Dr. McLennon-Miguel concluded.

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