File picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency (ANA)
JOHANNESBURG - Experts gathered this week in Addis Ababa for the First International Food Safety Conference have warned that food is an issue that needs to be depoliticised and prioritised to ensure improved health and wellbeing across the planet.

Food-borne diseases in low- and middle-income countries cost at least $100billion (R1.4trillion) a year according to a recent World Bank study.

Ongoing changes in climate, global food production and supply systems affect consumers, industries and the planet itself, and so food safety systems need to keep pace with these changes.

On top of this, the burden of unsafe food affects poor and marginalised people the most and poses sustainability and development challenges.

Despite the growing recognition of the importance of food safety in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the main objectives of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition, efforts to strengthen food safety systems remain fragmented and the gains, particularly in many developing countries, have been well below expectations.

Greater international co-operation is needed to prevent unsafe food from causing ill health, world leaders said at the opening session of the First International Food Safety Conference.

The event, held in Addis Ababa, is organised by the African Union, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organisation and the World Trade Organisation.

“The cost of unsafe food goes far beyond human suffering, it overloads health care systems.

"Malnutrition today is the largest cause of health loss in the world,” Director-General of FAO Jose Graziano da Silva said.

Estimates indicate that the global cost of malnutrition is $3.5trln annually, with obesity alone costing $2trln a year.

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