The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is to develop a new food safety strategy.

The Committee on Agriculture (COAG), held virtually from Sept. 28 to Oct. 2, 2020, agreed to support the development of the strategy. A previous session backed FAO’s food safety plan in 2014. The COAG has more than 100 member nations and meets every two years. It provides overall policy and regulatory guidance on issues including food safety.

The aim is to submit the updated document at the next meeting of the committee in 2022 for consideration and endorsement. Direction may be influenced by the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit.

Such a strategy would serve as international guidance, policy, and advocacy platform for decision-makers that can be used to encourage increased investments and integration of food safety into the development of sustainable food systems, food security and nutrition policies, and agriculture development strategies.

Align with WHO and Codex work
The Executive Board of the World Health Organization (WHO) in February 2020 adopted the resolution “Accelerating efforts on food safety” calling for an update of the WHO global strategy for food safety which is also planned for 2022.

Speakers during the COAG discussion online encouraged FAO to ensure alignment of the strategy with the work of WHO and Codex.

The COAG recognized the connection between food safety and food security and the role of the former towards FAO’s support of sustainable and inclusive agricultural and food systems. It encouraged FAO to include an approach that assists countries in the implementation of current tools that exist to strengthen national food control systems.

Experts also recognized that no single group can solve all food safety challenges and told FAO and WHO to use partnerships to create multi-sector and multi-disciplinary problem-solving.

A changing food system
In a rationale for the strategy, it was noted how changes in food systems require a need to rethink the place of food safety in sustainable development.

“The relevance of food safety to society, economic development, and sustainable food systems need to be better understood and promoted. A new food safety strategy should further address One Health issues, such as antimicrobial resistance, emerging zoonotic diseases, climate change, agricultural intensification, new technologies, innovation, food fraud, digitalization of food systems, and circular economies. The COVID-19 pandemic also demonstrates the increased relevance of food safety in emergency food assistance and humanitarian food aid.”

The revised approach will provide advice on managing unforeseen global challenges and crises that may affect the food supply. Developing such a strategy will help ensure food safety considerations are built in from scientific, regulatory, and capacity development perspectives.

There is also an environmental impact to consider as food loss and waste include the destruction of unsafe food that has been recalled or confiscated and fraudulent products.

Globalization, new digitalized distribution channels, e-commerce, and informal markets can all disrupt food safety if not managed carefully, according to FAO. The role of social media also needs to be considered as part of the strategy.

“Digitalization may facilitate international food trade with faster, more cost-efficient electronic certifications, increased food safety and traceability, and reduced vulnerability to food fraud. E-commerce, while potentially promising opportunities to low-income countries and smaller businesses, may result in new food safety problems if specific and new approaches for food safety checks will not be enacted by food control competent authorities.”

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