The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Indian health ministry on Wednesday urged the nations of the world to make food safety a priority.
The institutions stated that due to the rising number of deaths caused by food-borne diseases, there was an immediate need for every government to partner with civil society, non-governmental organisations and private sector and consumers to ensure that safe food becomes everybody’s business.
According to WHO statistics, food-borne and water-borne diarrhoeal diseases kill an estimated 2 million people, including many children, annually.
It also says that in the South East Asian region, diarrhoeal diseases continue to be one of the top three leading causes of deaths.
Nata Menabde, WHO Representative to India said: “Food safety is an issue of growing public health concern. To achieve food safety, strong functional links must be built between the public health and other sectors to ensure effective cross-sectoral collaboration.”
“In India, food safety has obvious and direct linkages with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet initiative — Swachh Bharat campaign — that promotes cleanliness and hygiene, which are the key factors influencing food safety, thereby reducing the socio-economic impact of food-borne illnesses,” she said.
Menabde was speaking at the national consultation on “Food Safety 2015” — which has been set as the theme for World Health Day.
Present at the consultation were Bhanu Pratap Sharma, health secretary and chairperson of Food Safety and Standards Association of India (FSSAI), Keshav Desiraju, secretary of department of consumer affairs and other senior dignitaries of both WHO and the health ministry.
The WHO also stated that in India, the full burden of food-borne illness is not known as most of the cases are unreported.
Surveillance data in the country from 2011-14 shows that food-borne outbreaks, together with acute diarrhoeal diseases, constituted nearly half of all reported outbreaks during this period.
In a message, WHO’s South Asian director, Poonam Khetrapal, said that food safety is one of the key focus areas under the International Health Regulations — IHR 2005 — which include all public health emergencies of international concern that involve contaminated food and outbreaks of food-borne diseases.
She said that the WHO and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have established the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) to rapidly share information during food safety emergencies.
Highlighting the need for inter-sectoral convergence at all levels, India’s health secretary Bhanu Pratap Sharma said: “There is a need for greater awareness and giving correct information to all stakeholders and that’s where the role of WHO is extremely important.”
“The objective of World Health Day, this year, is to catalyse collective government and public action to put measures in place that will improve safety of food by aligning policies in agriculture, trade, health, education and social protection to provide a safe and healthy diet for all,” he added.
Acknowledging the need to improve food safety systems, the institutions extensively deliberated on the issues of production, regulation, nutrition, unhealthy food and safety of street food.
It was announced on the occasion that state-level consultations on the theme food safety would also be held at Bengaluru, Kolkata, Patna and Raipur soon.