Food safety standards are vital to facilitate fair and transparent international food trade and consumer health protection by reducing foodborne disease incidence. Every year, foodborne diseases affect 1 in 10 people worldwide. The WHO South-East Asia Region accounts for 150 million illnesses, 175,000 deaths, and 12 million disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) due to foodborne diseases. Therefore, operative food standards must integrate safety and quality into every aspect of food production and service to ensure the supply of safe and wholesome food.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission is an international food safety and quality standard-setting body responsible for a collection of internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines, and other recommendations. It mandates protecting consumer health and ensuring good food trade practices. Codex standards enable importers to trust that the food ordered meets international standards and assure consumers the safety and quality of the food products they buy, and use.
Considering the importance of food standards in fair trade practices and consumer health protection, the World Food Safety Day 2023 campaign has started this year with the theme “Food standards save lives”. The theme coincides with the 60th anniversary of the Codex Alimentarius Commission this year. It encourages food safety advocates worldwide to focus on applying standards in every aspect of food production - from the farm to the table.
Establishing a food standard at the national level should be a national effort based on contributions from the government, the food industry, the scientific community, and consumers. In the South-east Asia Region, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Nepal, Thailand and Timor-Leste have used Codex standards to strengthen National Food Control systems and set national food standards.
I stress the importance of the Regional Codex Committee for Asia for better coordination among countries in the region to harmonize Codex standards, and also encourage the active participation of Member countries to the regional and global Codex standard-setting processes. However, academic institutions, professional and consumer organizations have a role to play in promoting Codex standards and implementing guidelines for consumer health protection as well. Equally important is the need for countries to have regular monitoring and surveillance of foodborne diseases and identify potential risks to outbreaks and take appropriate measures to mitigate them.
On World Food Safety Day, I remind everyone that food safety is a shared responsibility. From farmers and producers to retailers and consumers – all of us have a role to play in ensuring safe food. I also take this opportunity to reiterate our continued commitment to support Member States to strengthen the national food safety system as per Codex standards, codes of practice, guidelines, and recommendations. Together, it is an opportunity to strengthen efforts to ensure that the food we eat is safe.
(The writer is the WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia)