Four ways to improve food safety and enhance trade have been put forward in a policy brief.

The document discusses trade and food safety links and highlights the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) role.

While trade can provide consumers with sufficient, diverse, and nutritious food, it can also contribute to the increased availability of unsafe food, said Markus Lipp, Vittorio Fattori, and Cosimo Avesani.

The brief suggests that to facilitate trade and ensure safe food for all at all times, countries must take further steps to improve food safety at the national, regional, and international levels and ensure the proper application and harmonization of food standards. 

The authors said investment in food safety is essential, and capacity-building support from FAO and other organizations is key.

Food safety requirements can raise production costs, affect the reputation of a product, and limit access to some markets. According to the brief, such measures and controls need to protect public health while avoiding unnecessary costs and trade barriers.

Four areas of focus

The document mentions Codex standards and the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) agreement. It was produced ahead of WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi from Feb. 26 to 29.

Lipp, Fattori, and Avesani said efforts to improve food safety and enhance trade should focus on four areas. The first was a strong and effective national food control system.

“While the task is on the food industry to produce safe products, governments have a responsibility to provide a well-functioning national food control system,” said the brief.

The second was sound scientific advice and evidence, given the pace of scientific innovation, new food technologies, and changing trade dynamics.

“To proactively address the changes in our evolving agrifood systems, scientific advice on food safety must keep abreast of these emerging issues and provide a sound basis for regulatory frameworks and decision-making processes. It is also important to promote the harmonization of standards to reduce compliance costs,” said the brief.

The other two areas were intergovernmental and multi-stakeholder engagement at the national and international levels and public and private stakeholder collaboration.

German funding and climate change in focus

Meanwhile, the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) is to donate €1.95 million ($2.12 million) to the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF).

The money will strengthen the ability of small-scale farmers and producers to access global and regional markets for food and agriculture products through sanitary and phytosanitary projects. The projects will pilot approaches to facilitate safe trade in a way that helps reduce the risk of pests and diseases, contributing to safe food systems and mitigating the impact of climate change on food security.

“By aligning with international food safety standards, developing countries will be better positioned to access global markets, promoting economic growth, sustainability and job creation. This contribution will fund targeted initiatives, training programs and capacity-building efforts tailored to the unique challenges faced by these countries to meet international SPS standards,” said Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, WTO Director-General.

Developing and least developed countries (LDCs) can apply for SPS project and project preparation grants from the STDF. The next deadline for funding proposals is March 1. STDF was established by the FAO, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank Group, the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), and the WTO. 

In November 2023, STDF published a briefing note on SPS systems and climate change.

Challenges include rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and variations in temperature, humidity, and rainfall, affecting the persistence and occurrence of foodborne bacteria, viruses, and parasites, according to the document.

“Extreme weather events, droughts, and rising temperatures affect distribution patterns of pests and diseases and contribute to increased and new food safety risks. The effects on food safety and animal and plant health are already noticeable and will intensify further. Changing climactic factors also affect the prevalence of chemical hazards such as harmful algal toxins, mycotoxins, and methylmercury in food.”

The briefing note also focuses on what needs to be done to address the challenges.

“Discussions on climate change should prioritize efficient food safety, animal and plant health systems, resulting in more political attention and subsequent much-needed funding. Improving monitoring and surveillance capacity will be fundamental to detecting, managing, and controlling increased and new SPS risks posed by climate change, to inform risk assessments, and to reduce their uncertainty.” 

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