SWITZERLAND – Food safety specialists from Honduras, Mongolia and the Caribbean have shared their experiences on implementing the One Health approach in a webinar organized by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Geneva.
The session called “Enhancing Food Safety using the One Health Approach” had more than 200 participants.
It was hosted by FAO, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and World Health Organization (WHO). The One Health concept is that the health of people is connected to the health of animals, plants, and the environment.
The One Health dialogue series aims to increase awareness on the complexity of the issue and impact policy making.
Suzan McLennon-Miguel, from the Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety (CAHFSA), described challenges in four areas namely primary production at farm level, transportation, dry and cold storage and waste disposal; retail and processing.
“We are being encouraged globally to have good agricultural practices for crops; for feed, animals and the environment we need a risk management approach. Climate change has affected us and we need to know the impact of that. For AMR, as we continue, we need monitoring, inspection and surveillance programs,” she said adding that,
“Importation of our raw materials is very important and risk assessments have to be done. How many of our processing plants are registered and are they implementing the various food safety systems? In retail we look at traceability from the farm, consumers must be confident and know how our food is grown, harvested, processed and transported.”
The Caribbean Agricultural Early Detection and Response System (CAEDRS) is being developed to strengthen the food safety system, reports Food Safety News.
McLennon-Miguel said CAHFSA is part of working groups with representatives from organizations that deal with plants, fisheries, trade, public health, veterinarians and the environment.
“CAHFSA is going to be a beacon for the region, we are going to be shining a light and bringing in all the ships that are coming with the tools and training so that we can strengthen our plant, animal and food safety systems,” she said.
CAHFSA’s objectives are to strengthen the systems in place, to manage food safety risks and respond to incidents and emergencies.
Honduras’ new food safety policy
Meanwhile Mirian Bueno, from the National Service for Health and Agri-food Safety Agency (SENASA) in Honduras, said voluntary standards can be referenced in regulations and help governments with enforcement.
When implemented properly and consistently by the food chain they can also minimize the need for legislation.
“The Honduran Standardization Body (OHN) developed a national standard for GAP in primary production for melons. It was developed in 2015 based on Codex guidelines and has served as a reference to industry after a Salmonella outbreak in 2008,” she said.
A Codex Trust Fund project since July 2018 has boosted national structures and an agreement signed with OHN helped shorten the procedure for adoption of national standards.
Bueno said the country has been supported in drafting a new food safety policy for 2022-2032. It includes principles, objectives and indicators for safe food.
“We are starting a gap analysis of food safety standards and regulations to Codex standards by the first semester 2022. We hope to update at least six food safety standards for production along the food chain by the end of 2022 including a new voluntary standard on ware potatoes,” she said.
On his part, Tungalag Davaa, of the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry in Mongolia, said food safety governance is very complex even though the country is small.
An assessment found issues such as toxic contaminants from mining, a lack of border control and testing, remoteness affecting access to vets, traditional lifestyle challenges, uncontrolled use of antibiotics in livestock, unregulated use of pesticides, improper storage practices, lack of hygiene at slaughtering sites plus soil and water pollution.
“Consumers are not so educated on food safety. Producers do not have incentives or the ability to ensure food safety and quality standards,” said Davaa.
What’s more shocking, as laid out by Davaa, is that the higher-ups like Ministers are not well conversant with One Health, hence the need for awareness creation.
To alleviate this gap, the Asian Development Bank will for the next four years aid the country in capacity building for food safety and traceability.
A third covers capacity building for food safety and traceability with the from 2021 to 2024.
FAO together with the World Bank has joined hands with the Mongolian government in a five-year partnership to consolidate the country’s animal health and food safety systems.
In a bid to reduce foodborne AMR, Mongolia is implementing Codex standards.
Concerted efforts in containing food safety issues
Simone Raszl, of WHO, said changes in the food system such as the increase in international trade, urbanization, the waste of food and climate change are affecting safety at local and global levels, hence the urgency to adopt the One Health approach.
Frans Verstraete, from the European Commission, said highlighted the need for concerted efforts in dealing with food safety challenges.
He pointed out that the One Health approach enables better predictability and hence better prevention for any potential food safety threats as it integrates animals, plants, humans and the environment.
“When issues are occurring in the environment you can assess the risks related to food, animals and plants so much earlier and anticipate possible problems. It is also important to share expertise as sometimes problems occur in animals but impact humans. Cooperation between and within sectors increases effectiveness and is more resource efficient,” he said.
Contributing to the conversation, Marlynne Hopper, of the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF), said there is a huge amount of ongoing work at country and regional level to rollout One Health approaches.
She noted that promoting the One Health approach is far from easy because they cross organizational boundaries, cross national borders, evolving risks and uncertainties that exist and number of stakeholders that need to play a role.
“There is no one size fits all. It is the best opportunity we have to address complexity and challenges facing our modern food safety systems nationally, regionally and globally. We need to learn from each other and make better use of scarce human and financial resources,” she said.
In his concluding remarks, Markus Lipp, FAO’s Senior Food Safety Officer noted that we need to continue to highlight the importance of food safety and do a better job in selling it to finance ministers and other donors.
“We learned life is complicated, food safety is complicated and One Health is even more complicated. We don’t have enough resources, we have to learn to work together and with ministries within national and local contexts and at international organizational level,” he said.