The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) is conducting a climate risks and food safety baseline assessment.

The exercise will determine the resilience of food and water safety and health and agriculture-related sectors in response to the effects of climate change in the region.

Objectives include identifying strengths, gaps, and opportunities in the surveillance and outbreak investigation of foodborne diseases and hazards related to climate and weather events; identifying reservoirs for food and waterborne pathogens; and, to assess the capacity for implementing climate integrated foodborne disease early warning systems.

The work is part of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) coordinated EU and CARIFORUM Strengthening Climate Resilient Health Systems in the Caribbean project.

Caribbean vulnerability
Assessments of past national food safety plans have shown limited incorporation of climate resilience, however, CARPHA and PAHO will review and revise the plans with countries, factoring in climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Hurricanes, floods, and droughts are putting pressure on food production systems in the Caribbean, making countries highly dependent on food imports and volatile prices. 

“While the body of evidence is slowly growing on an international scale, work on climate change and food safety risks have not been well documented in the Caribbean region, nor has the Caribbean’s ability to respond to climate-driven outbreak events been assessed. With a scarcity of information, the Caribbean will continue to remain vulnerable to the effects of climate change on food safety and security,” said Joy St. John, executive director at CARPHA.

Out of 10 participating countries, the majority have developed national food safety plans and country officials recognize the effects of climate change on national and regional food safety, as well as the increased future risks. Emphasis will be placed on strengthening surveillance systems, including laboratory capacity to detect foodborne diseases. 

Ottorino Cosivi, from the Pan American Center for Foot-and-Mouth Disease and Veterinary Public Health (PANAFTOSA), said Caribbean countries are particularly at risk because of emerging diseases from climate change.

“There is a delicate balance between the health of people, the health of animals, and ecosystems. If the balance is broken, public health can be affected. There is an increasing need to build climate-resilient food systems under the One Health approach to ensure food safety along the food value chain and improve productivity in a sustainable manner.”

PAHO and PANAFTOSA are trying to strengthen national food control systems through standards and regulations; education and communication; surveillance; inspection and laboratories. It is estimated that in the Americas, every year 77 million people suffer from foodborne diseases and more than 9,000 die.

FAO role in regional projects
Renata Clarke, FAO sub-regional coordinator, said the current focus on a regional approach to food security should extend to food safety. 

“An ongoing FAO project is enabling countries to carry out systematic assessments of their food control systems that allow countries to recognize areas of weakness and to plan effectively to address them. There needs to be constant vigilance to ensure that our food safety system is keeping pace with changes provoked by climate change, by technology, and by changing lifestyles,” she said.

“The spirit of World Food Safety Day is to bring home the message that food safety is everyone’s business. It is not just about what governments and industries can do. There is much that consumers must do as well.”

Earlier this year, more than 30 stakeholders were trained during a workshop on Assessing Food Control Systems in the Bahamas, organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Bahamas Agricultural Health and food Safety Authority (BAHFSA).

Bahamas is doing a pilot assessment using the FAO/World Health Organization (WHO) Food Control System Assessment tool, which is based on Codex Alimentarius guidelines. The pilot also involves Guyana, with a follow-up meeting planned to share the experiences, lessons learned, benefits and challenges of the assessments with other Caribbean countries.

Participants will begin the actual assessment of the food control system of the Bahamas by gathering information from relevant food and agriculture authorities. Future meetings will endorse recommendations for improvements to the control system and develop a framework to engage decision-makers to ensure commitment and political support.

Clay Sweeting, Minister of Agriculture, Marine Resources and Family Island Affairs, said the assessment was necessary to improve cooperation and coordination between the various agencies with responsibility for the agricultural health and food safety system, and to identify the key priorities and activities needed to improve food safety along the food chain.

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