World Health Assembly adopts WHO Global Strategy for Food Safety

GLOBAL – The World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of WHO, has agreed to adopt the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Strategy for Food Safety that seeks to strengthen food safety systems.

The WHO Global Strategy for Food Safety is a milestone in the work to promote health, keep the world safe and protect the vulnerable, by strengthening innovative public health approaches and multisectoral collaborations.

In 2020, a resolution titled ‘‘Strengthening efforts on food safety’’ was adopted by the Seventy-third World Health Assembly.

In the resolution, Member States requested WHO to update the WHO Global Strategy for Food Safety to address current and emerging challenges, incorporate new technologies and include innovative approaches for strengthening food safety systems, and to submit a report for consideration by the Seventy-fifth World Health Assembly in 2022.

The updated strategy aims to serve as a blueprint and guidance for Member States in their efforts to strengthen their national food safety systems and promote regional and global cooperation.

24 renowned food safety experts representing WHO’s six regions were selected and appointed by the Director-General to provide technical advice on updating the strategy.

The content of the updated strategy builds on previous global and regional food safety strategies, as well as the meeting outcomes of the two high-level international food safety conferences convened in 2019.

It provides foundational support to programs like EatSafe: Evidence and Action Towards Safe, Nutritious Food, a USAID-funded Feed the Future program and consortium led by GAIN that aims to improve the safety of nutritious foods in traditional markets. 

Global strategies from multi-lateral organizations like the WHO reinforce and give direction to collaborative food safety efforts and provide a roadmap for key stakeholders to act in a coordinated fashion.

The WHO Global Strategy calls on national governments to develop or update food safety implementation plans to modernize their food safety programs to better protect consumers and food businesses from the consequences of unsafe food.

According to GAIN, government action can suffer from “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Many national agencies may have a role in food safety, but they often lack effective coordination to implement and enforce national food safety policy.

Legislation is frequently outdated, so in the strategy, WHO calls for countries to adopt updated standards and guidance, coupled with appropriate compliance, verification, and enforcement activities.

It is also essential that governments link health care and disease surveillance systems to food safety programs. Preventive control programs, which form the heart of food safety in the modern era, will only work if foodborne hazards are identified through a robust surveillance program.

Food safety is everyone’s business

Governments are not solely responsible for the critical gaps that result in this unacceptable burden of foodborne disease.

All food system actors play a role in food safety:  from the farmers and ranchers to the processors and retailers, and onto the consumers and chefs that prepare the food into tasty and nutritious meals.

“Improving food safety isn’t rocket science – there are many proven methods, like Good Manufacturing Practices, HACCP and preventive controls, that can increase protections throughout the food chain.

“Engaging consumers using approaches like WHO’s 5 Keys to Safer Food is vital to our success. Emerging strategies, like EatSafe’s informal sector interventions, can also be leveraged to engage and empower key stakeholders across the food system,” says GAIN.

The WHO Global Strategy for Food Safety brings renewed impetus among people and organizations that care about food safety.

This updated strategy will contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and will be reviewed in 2030 when the world reflects upon the progress made towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

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