Experts share insights from One Health approach in food safety

Food safety experts from Honduras, Mongolia and the Caribbean have shared their experiences on implementing a One Health approach in a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) webinar.

Organized by the United Nations’ FAO in Geneva, the One Health dialogue series aims to increase awareness of the complexity of the issue and impact policy making. It was the first time food safety had been discussed.

The session called “Enhancing Food Safety using the One Health Approach” had more than 200 participants. It was hosted by the FAO, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The One Health concept is that the health of people is connected to the health of animals, plants, and the environment.

Suzan McLennon-Miguel, from the Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety (CAHFSA), described challenges in four areas: primary production at farm level; transportation, dry and cold storage and waste disposal; retail and processing.

“We are being encouraged globally to have good agricultural practices for crops; for feed, animals and the environment we need a risk management approach. Climate change has affected us and we need to know the impact of that. For AMR, as we continue, we need monitoring, inspection and surveillance programs, ”she said.

“Importation of our raw materials is very important and risk assessments have to be done. How many of our processing plants are registered and are they implementing the various food safety systems? In retail we look at traceability from the farm, consumers must be confident and know how our food is grown, harvested, processed and transported. ”

The Caribbean Agricultural Early Detection and Response System (CAEDRS) is being developed to strengthen the food safety system.

McLennon-Miguel said CAHFSA is part of working groups with representatives from organizations that deal with plants, fisheries, trade, public health, veterinarians and the environment.

“CAHFSA is going to be a beacon for the region, we are going to be shining a light and bringing in all the ships that are coming with the tools and training so that we can strengthen our plant, animal and food safety systems,” she said.

“Our objectives are to strengthen the systems we have, to manage food safety risks and respond to incidents and emergencies. We are going to be looking at policy and legal frameworks across the region, then food and feed inspections, monitoring and surveillance programs, setting up guidelines for incident and emergency response and food safety communication plus education and training has to be done. ”

Honduras food safety policy
Mirian Bueno, of the National Service for Health and Agri-Food Safety Agency (SENASA) in Honduras, said voluntary standards can be referenced in regulations and help governments with enforcement. When implemented properly and consistently by the food chain they can also minimize the need for legislation.

“The Honduran Standardization Body (OHN) developed a national standard for GAP in primary production for melons. It was developed in 2015 based on Codex guidelines and has served as a reference to industry after a Salmonella outbreak in 2008. ”

A Codex Trust Fund project since July 2018 has boosted national structures and an agreement signed with OHN helped shorten the procedure for the adoption of national standards.

Bueno said the country has been supported in drafting a new food safety policy for 2022-2032. It includes principles, objectives and indicators for safe food.

“We are starting a gap analysis of food safety standards and regulations to Codex standards by the first semester of 2022. We hope to update at least six food safety standards for production along the food chain by the end of 2022 including a new voluntary standard on ware potatoes. ”

Projects in Mongolia
Tungalag Davaa, of the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry in Mongolia, said food safety governance is very complex even though the country is small.

An assessment found issues such as toxic contaminants from mining, a lack of border control and testing, remoteness affecting access to vets, traditional lifestyle challenges, uncontrolled use of antibiotics in livestock, unregulated use of pesticides, improper storage practices, lack of hygiene at slaughtering sites plus soil and water pollution.

“Consumers are not so educated on food safety. Producers do not have incentives or the ability to ensure food safety and quality standards, ”said Davaa.

Mongolia is working with FAO and the World Bank from 2021 to 2025 on strengthening animal health and food safety systems. Another project is implementing Codex standards on containing and reducing foodborne AMR. A third covers capacity building for food safety and traceability with the Asian Development Bank from 2021 to 2024.

“The main challenge is people in higher positions like ministers are not very aware of One Health. We have to promote education programs to put this approach to them so they act accordingly. Herders don’t think they are food producers and it’s hard for us to keep track at a countryside level, “Davaa said.

Early warning ability
Simone Raszl, of WHO, said changes in the food system are affecting safety at local and global levels.

“The increase of international trade, urbanization, the waste of food and climate change are having significant impacts on food safety. The emergence of pathogens due to enhanced interaction and consumption of wild animal meat can facilitate the spillover of zoonotic diseases and their transmission through the food chain. To address and mitigate these challenges we need to adopt the One Health approach. ”

Frans Verstraete, from the European Commission, said together we are stronger to face food safety challenges.

“In One Health, the opportunity is having better predictability, an early warning and better prevention. With this approach you have integration of animal, plant, human and environment. When issues are occurring in the environment you can assess the risks related to food, animals and plants, so much earlier anticipate possible problems. It is also important to share expertise as sometimes problems occur in animals but impact humans. Cooperation between and within sectors increases effectiveness and is more resource efficient, ”he said.

“In the EU, we have one regulation on official controls covering animals, plants and food. Within countries it is important that different control authorities work together. This is not easy, in many cases different ministries are involved but we need to avoid overlaps. A lot of hurdles to overcome but once they see the efficiency and better results the hurdles will disappear but it will take time. ”

Resource issues
Marlynne Hopper, of the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF), said there is a huge amount of ongoing work at the country and regional level to roll out One Health approaches.

“Sometimes it is far from easy to promote One Health approaches due to different reasons, because they cross organizational boundaries, cross national borders, evolving risks and uncertainties that exist and a number of stakeholders that need to play a role. There is no one size fits all, ”she said.

“It is the best opportunity we have to address the complexity and challenges facing our modern food safety systems nationally, regionally and globally. We need to learn from each other and make better use of scarce human and financial resources.

“Last year in June, members of the STDF partnership came together to reflect for the UN Food Systems Summit on why facilitating safe trade matters for food systems transformation. There was a feeling that interventions to build and strengthen SPS capacity for trade have even greater domestic impacts. We don’t have all the answers now but we are interested in doing more on this. ”

Markus Lipp, FAO senior food safety officer, gave concluding remarks.

“We learned life is complicated, food safety is complicated and One Health is even more complicated. We do not have enough resources, we have to learn to work together and with ministries within national and local contexts and at international organizational level. We also need to continue to highlight the importance of food safety and do a better job in selling it to finance ministers and other donors. In the end we need it all, healthy animals, healthy plants, healthy soil and we want healthy humans, ”he said.

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