World Bank study highlights cost of unsafe food in developing countries
A World Bank study released this week finds that the impact of unsafe food costs low- and middle-income economies about $110 billion in lost productivity and medical expenses each year.
The study, “The Safe Food Imperative: Accelerating Progress in Low- and Middle-Income Countries,” says that a lot of the costs could be avoided by improving how food is handled from farm to fork.
“Better managing the safety of food would also significantly contribute to achieving multiple Sustainable Development Goals, especially those relating to poverty, hunger and well-being,” the study says.
Foodborne diseases caused an estimated 600 million illnesses and 420,000 premature deaths in 2010, according to World Health Organization, but the problem is concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia.
“Relative to their population, low- and middle-income countries in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa bear a proportionately high burden,” the report says, noting that these countries account for 41 percent of the global population yet 53 percent of all foodborne illness and 75 percent of related deaths.
“Unsafe food threatens young children the most: although children under 5 make up only 9 percent of the world’s population, they account for almost 40 percent of foodborne disease and 30 percent of related deaths.”
“Food safety receives relatively little policy attention and is under-resourced. Action is normally reactive — to major foodborne disease outbreaks or trade interruptions — rather than preventative,” said Juergen Voegele, senior director of the Food and Agriculture Global Practice at the World Bank.
“By focusing on domestic food safety more deliberately, countries can strengthen the competitiveness of their farmers and food industry and develop their human capital. After all, safe food is essential to fuel a healthy, educated and resilient workforce,” Voegele said.
“Governments in low- and middle-income countries not only need to invest more in food safety but also invest more smartly,” said Steven Jaffee, lead agriculture economist at the World Bank and study co-author.
“This means investing in foundational knowledge, human resources, and infrastructure; realizing synergies among investments in food safety, human health, and environmental protection; and using public investment to leverage private investment.”
The study also supports a shift in approaches to food safety regulation. The traditional approach centers on enforcing regulatory compliance through product testing and food facility inspections, and the application of legal and financial penalties for infractions. Greater emphasis is needed on providing information and other resources to motivate and empower food sector operators to comply with food safety regulation.
“The results of regulation should be measured in terms of compliant enterprises, confident consumers, and food safety outcomes rather than the number of fines or business closures,” said Jaffee.
The report was supported by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and draws on data and insights from the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and other partners.
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