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Saturday, 8 August 2015

Exotic Foods and Global Inequality

Different places, privileges, possibilities and provisions, but the same needs:
Surrendering or apathy is no longer an option. A false sense of security is worse.

How are we doing globally? 
How is your country doing? Is it also a so-called developed country that is navel-gazing with one eye closed?

To solve a global problem, ignoring any region, sector or consideration is counter-productive:

What should we be doing individually and collectively? There had been times when the question of global inequality in food safety management did not matter to me because, after all, I live where resources are plentiful. Those times are long gone. The apathetic stance has since been replaced with the realization that the food supply chain that directly affects me is global. Many people in the industry have this understanding. Proclamations about making food safety global have become the vogue but how far has this gone towards the desired goals?

On what side of the food channel do you find yourself? With the way things are, there can be no boasting on either side of the channel. Food safety and security risks are expanding in spite of the so called advancements and certifications that are mostly lop-sided.

Initiatives described as “global” food safety and food security efforts have been launched but exactly how global is “global food security and safety”? Can the assurance of food security and safety be achieved equally worldwide? Is food safety and security global only within regions where there are available resources (money, people, knowledge, infrastructure, amenities, provisions, utilities, good water supply, etc)? Are some regions simply to be ignored and will ignoring these regions be safe for the rich regions in an intricately linked global food supply chain?
On the one hand, if the methods applied to assure the security and safety of food for people in regions with meager means are good enough, they should also be good enough for assuring the safety and security of food for people in more affluent regions. On the other, if more elaborate methods with incidentally higher costs must be applied to assure that food is sufficient and safe for people in more affluent regions, these elaborate methods must be designed so they can be extended or shared globally in a manner that does not impose great burdens on less affluent regions.

Sufficient and Safe Food is not an Exclusive Right


People living in less privileged countries have the same basic human rights to sufficient, safe and affordable food as those in wealthy countries. At the same time, the poorer countries do not have the means for adopting many of the elaborate food safety assurance measures that are proposed for wealthy nations. Some of these elaborate methods adopted in more affluent countries are clearly too cost-intensive to make them feasible in poorer countries. This forces the need to revisit the “if-good-enough” argument.

Less elaborate and less cost-intensive options must be sought for poorer countries and if such options are good enough for poor countries, the argument is: They should be good enough for the affluent countries. If they are not good enough, then the moral obligation falls to the well-to-do countries to share their wealth in a manner that assures the sufficiency, safety and affordability of food in the less privileged regions. In the global interconnectedness and interdependence, an international worker exchange program among companies is not such a bad idea after all.

Disproportionate Effect of Invested Efforts and Resources

Upon a close examination, one finds some disturbing economic realities about many of the elaborate methods, including the methods of assessing the safety and quality of food systems in wealthier regions. Much of the expenditure appears to be on redundant impositions that contribute little, if at all anything, to the actual safety of food. The proof of this redundancy is in the scope and recurrence of food-borne hazard alerts. Even affluent countries have numerous alerts because numerous failures are actually occurring. The argument that the alerts are many because of better ways of detecting failures is a condescending argument. It disrespects the intelligence of consumers. Good mitigation systems will leave fewer failures to detect.

In spite of the elaborate methods and their ever-expanding network in the wealthier regions where they can be afforded, food has not become safer in these wealthier regions. Beyond the theoretical claims about the progress made, the elaborate and cost-intensive methods employed seem to have a grossly disproportionate effect in comparison to the efforts and resources invested in pursuing them. One only needs to look at the annual food-borne illness statistics in some of these wealthy regions. Here are some figures from a relatively recent study in the United Kingdom alone:

A 2014 study in the UK found that:

  • There are more than 500,000 cases of food poisoning a year from known pathogens. This figure would more than double if it included food poisoning cases from unknown pathogens.
  • Campylobacter was the most common foodborne pathogen, with about 280,000 cases every year.
  • The next most common pathogen was Clostridium perfringens with 80,000 cases, and norovirus was third with an estimated 74,000 cases.
  • Salmonella is the pathogen that causes the most hospital admissions – about 2,500 each year.
  • Poultry meat was the food linked to the most cases of food poisoning, with an estimated 244,000 cases every year.
  • After poultry, produce including vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, caused the second highest number of cases of illness (an estimated 48,000 cases), while beef and lamb were third (an estimated 43,000 cases). http://www.food.gov.uk/news-updates/news/2014/6097/foodpoisoning#sthash.JGRusjBZ.dpuf
Similar statistics are provided for other regions:

Estimating The Global Burden Of Foodborne Diseases - A Collaborative Effort http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=19195

WHO Initiative to Estimate the Global Burden of Foodborne Diseases

Estimates of Food-borne Illness in Canada

Cost Estimates of Foodborne Illnesses in the United States

The Annual Cost of Foodborne Illness in Australia
  
Related Post
Food Production Chain - Strong and Weak Links. . . ” - http://gcse-food-health-protection.blogspot.com/2012/08/food-production-chain-strong-and-weak.html
 Posted By Felix Amiri
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Felix Amiri is currently the chair of GCSE-Food & Health Protection, and a sworn SSQA advocate.

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