Food safety is one of the most ignored areas of policy in low-income countries, especially in Africa. As a result, food systems in these countries are not always as well organized and comprehensive as in the industrialized world. This situation is exacerbated by an ever-growing population, rapid urbanization and, most importantly, a lack of the economic and technical resources needed to support a sound food safety system. As a result, people in developing countries are continuously exposed to a wide range of potential food safety risks. Indeed, ensuring food safety at the national level is a very expensive undertaking and this is a major setback for most low-income countries. In the U.S, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year to ensure the safety of the U.S. food supply. Even with such large sums of money going into this endeavor, the American food safety system is not perfect. The FDA is constantly understaffed and underfunded to carry out its duties considering the influx of food imports resulting from the expanding global food system. Now, if funding food safety is proving to be a little bit challenging to the U.S., which is way better off economically than a developing nation, imagine how hard it can be for a poor impoverished country to take on this feat. Apart from economic challenges, most poor countries are also struggling with food insecurity. This seems to be a more burning issue that is accorded immediate attention while issues of food safety take a back seat. As a result, poor countries usually have some of the worst food safety systems in the world. Given this bleak background, why should poor countries care about food safety? There are a number of compelling reasons why poor countries should improve their food safety systems. By taking such measures, a developing nation could:
- Boost food safety on a local level
- Increase revenue through international food trade
- Bolster food security
In a globalized world like ours, poor countries cannot afford to ignore food safety issues. Such a stance is detrimental to their weak economies because it leads to a loss of revenue from international food trade. There is a huge difference between food safety standards in developing countries and developed. Consequently, poor countries keep losing revenue that they could have gained had they been able to produce food that was safe enough to meet the high standards required by international markets. At the same time, poor countries lose even more revenue because they have opened their markets to imports (including food products) as per their WTO commitments. (Members of the World Trade Organization, which include most developing countries, must import from other member companies if they wish to export as well). Developing countries import a lot of food to cater to developed countries’ middle classes, which have higher standards for their food. As result poor countries get hit on both ends, making it harder for them to come out of the poverty cycle. It is crucial that developing countries upgrade their food safety systems to unlock the doors to international food markets. This endeavor should be treated as an investment that has the capability of paying off greatly in the end. Why Food Trade Can Help Developing Nations The food industry is currently one of the fastest growing in the world, as populations are burgeoning worldwide. Since agriculture is the main industry in most developing nations, food is what these countries have to offer as their best trade asset. Food production is becoming one of the most profitable investments, as evidenced by the fact that “land grabbing” has become rampant in Africa. Research shows that over the past few years, companies and foreign governments have been leasing large areas of land in poor countries in Africa. This is being done in anticipation of a sharp increase in world food and commodity prices that is already becoming a reality in countries like Ethiopia and Tanzania. Countries with high populations like India and China are actually going on land buying missions in Africa to safeguard food security in their respective countries. This situation provides an opportunity for African countries to increase their food exports. It also points to the fact that food production can be a very profitable investment, and might just be the key to the much needed economic development in Africa. There are also added benefits that can trickle from the creation of sound food safety systems in low-income countries. For instance, an improvement of food safety systems in poor countries can also translate into food security, which tops the list of problems in these countries. Research has shown that there is a connection between food safety and food security. In fact, food security is defined as access to adequate, nutritious and safe food. As long as food safety is ignored, there is no way a country can be said to be truly food secure. Research has also shown that a lot of food is wasted due to lack of proper food safety systems. There is a lot of food spoilage caused by poor food storage systems and this is one of the main contributing factors to food insecurity. As such, correcting the food safety problem can help these countries make strides towards attaining food security. Finally, one may argue that proceeds from food trade can enable the governments in these countries to spend more on agriculture, through subsidies and other supports, thereby alleviating food insecurity. So yes, poor countries do need to put their food safety systems in order so that they can reap the ensuing economic and social benefits.