Food safety standards and trade is one of seven areas in the Food and Agriculture Organization’s COVID-19 response and recovery program.

The United Nations’ agency is calling for $1.2 billion in initial investment to support efforts.

The food safety part has a budget of $50 million and a timeframe until 2024.

Trade measures have been a common feature of the immediate policy response to the outbreak such as import restrictions because of food safety concerns that are not necessarily science-based, according to the FAO.

Digital and infrastructure focus
Key areas include digital solutions promoting the exchange of electronic trade documents, such as e-certificates and the harmonization of food safety and animal health e-certification systems as well as infrastructure supporting improvements in laboratories for food safety analysis.

In line with the UN approach to “build back better” post COVID-19, the overall program aims to mitigate immediate impacts of the pandemic while strengthening the longer term resilience of food systems and livelihoods.

According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), world merchandise trade in 2020 could fall by as much as 32 percent. Estimates from the World Bank predict the pandemic’s economic impact could push about 100 million people into extreme poverty.

The FAO’s Director-General Qu Dongyu said a business as usual approach is not possible anymore.

“We must work very hard to limit COVID-19’s damaging effects on food security and nutrition. We need to be more country-driven, innovative and work closely hand in hand,” Dongyu said.

Regional approach
In Africa, the program will focus on strengthening food safety control systems, improving infrastructure and promoting adoption of digital technology.

In Asia and the Pacific, work will center on technical support to streamline administrative procedures and implement harmonized food safety standards, including the promotion of digital innovations along certain borders.

It will look at export promotion, through technical support to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) on compliance with food safety standards in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

In the Near East and North Africa, efforts will prioritize technical assistance in trade facilitation, food safety and post-production efficiency in countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia.

The FAO is planning a regional platform for animal health and phytosanitary assistance including food safety for the 33 countries of the Latin America and Caribbean region by 2024. The agency aims to bring together stakeholders to support phytosanitary activities (pests and plant diseases) and food safety management in the processing, distribution, retail and consumption sectors.

Overall work
The other priority areas are to reinforce a global humanitarian response plan for COVID-19; improve data for decision-making; ensure economic inclusion and social protection to reduce poverty; boost smallholder resilience for recovery; prevent the next zoonotic pandemic through a strengthened One Health approach; and trigger food systems transformation.

Preventing the next zoonotic pandemic has a timeframe of up to 2024 and a budget of $100 million.

COVID-19 originated from an animal source, as have an estimated 60 percent of human infectious diseases. Particularly risky settings for the next pandemic include live animal markets and regions where there is a rise in wild meat consumption.

Family farmers are most at risk, often women and children, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, where medical, veterinary and animal production services are limited and food safety control systems are ill-equipped to prevent, detect and respond to emerging and resurgent zoonotic diseases, according to the FAO.

Mitigation measures include enhancing national and international preparedness and performance during the emergency response, developing policies for spillover containment and strengthening policy implementation.

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