From farm to fork: Investing globally in food safety on World Health Day

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

A farmer in northern Rwanda. [CIAT/Flickr]

On World Health Day (7 April), European Commissioners Vytenis Andriukaitis and Neven Mimica highlight the importance of food safety, malnutrition, and fighting health threats both in the Union and in developing countries.

Vytenis Andriukaitis is Commissioner for Health and Food Safety.Neven Mimica is Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development.

2015 is the European year for development (EYD). It is an opportunity to show how EU assistance is improving the lives of millions in developing countries; but also in Europe. Food safety, which is the theme of this year’s World Health Day, is a clear example of this.

Too often in Europe we take for granted that the food on our plates is safe. Europe should be proud that its 500 million consumers benefit from the highest food safety and health protection standards in the world, and that many other countries take them as the norm to be followed. However, we must not become complacent.

EU food safety policy safeguards health along the agri-food chain. Our legislation, underpinned by solid science and rigorous controls, marks the cornerstone of our “from farm to fork” concept. As a result, Europeans can enjoy safe and nutritious food produced from healthy plants and animals, whilst enabling the food industry — Europe’s largest manufacturing and employment sector — to operate under the best possible conditions.

At the same time, the EU leads the way in promoting the development of internationally agreed standards in food safety and health protection in international trade and cooperation agreements. This is done, for instance, by providing technical assistance to countries outside the EU so that they can meet those international standards and therefore gain access to the EU market. Our programmes are designed to target primarily small producers. But this is not only important in North-South trade; it also concerns trade relations between developing countries.

To facilitate trade and knowledge-sharing, the Commission is funding programmes like Better Training for Safer Food (BTSF), for which in 2014 alone we earmarked just over €18 million. Over the years, we trained around 48,000 people responsible for official controls from within the EU and across the globe on over 40 different subjects. BTSF also provides specific training for non-EU countries, since it is vital for trade flows that they are familiar with EU import requirements.

As part of the European Year for Development, each month is dedicated to a specific theme. April is the month dedicated to health. In order to discuss food safety issues, or universal health, we need to also ensure that people living in developing countries have enough to eat and sufficient nutrients for their proper development. Over 46 million people have been assisted through social transfers for food security over the last decade thanks to EU aid. The EU has been at the forefront of global efforts to fight malnutrition, by promising to support partner countries in reducing stunting in children under five by at least 7 million by 2025.

Many challenges lie ahead.  With over 190,000 human cases annually, campylobacter (a cause of food poisoning) is the most frequently reported food-borne bacteria in the EU, costing an estimated EUR 2.4 billion a year to health systems. Guarding against such food-borne illnesses is essential for protecting people’s health. Another ongoing challenge in the EU is tackling the growing threat of potentially deadly bacteria which are developing resistance to antimicrobial drugs.  It is estimated that drug resistant infections cause more than 25,000 deaths and €1.5 billion in extra healthcare costs every year. Finally, delivering sustainable food production, promoting food innovation and technology, and reducing food waste are other important challenges that together we must face.

Health and food safety are a shared responsibility. We remain committed to working with international partners, as well as EU Member States, to tackle new and emerging threats. The Commission joins the World Health Organisation in calling for strengthened efforts to secure the highest possible levels of health protection and food safety throughout the world.

Let’s use the unique opportunity the European Year for Development 2015 provides us with to put food safety, health and development in the spotlight. After all, it’s improving the lives of millions that we are talking about here. Let’s make this year count, together.  

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