Health is wealth

Tuesday, 7 April 2015 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

WORLD Health Day is upon us. In fact, World Health Day 2015 is called ‘from farm to plate make food safe’. World Health Day is the birthday of the World Health Organization, which was formed on 7 April 1948. This theme perhaps best encapsulates the challenge faced by both the developed and developing world. The day provides an opportunity for individuals in every community to get involved in activities that can lead to better health. For that it makes sense to ask, what is unsafe food? According to the World Health Organization, unsafe food can contain harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances and cause more than 200 diseases – ranging from diarrhoea to cancers. Examples of unsafe food include undercooked foods of animal origin, fruits and vegetables contaminated with chemicals, and shellfish containing marine bio-toxins.       Access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food is key to sustaining life and promoting good health. Not just that but foodborne and waterborne diarrhea diseases kill an estimated 2 million people annually, including many children. Food safety, nutrition and food security are inextricably linked. Unsafe food creates a vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition, particularly affecting infants, young children, elderly and the sick. Foodborne diseases impede socioeconomic development by straining health care systems, and harming national economies, tourism and trade. For Sri Lankans, food safety has gained tremendous importance over the last few years, with organic produce becoming a buzzword almost overnight. Yet an overwhelming section of the population continue to have little or no access to food free from harmful pesticides. This is all the more stark when one considers the chronic kidney disease felling hundreds of farmers in the North Central Province and elsewhere.       Successive decades of pesticide and chemical fertiliser overuse has resulted in massive dependence by the agriculture sector. So much so that billions of rupees are spent annually on the fertiliser subsidy. So crucial has this hand-out become that if it were to be withdrawn, then the Government responsible would very likely be thrown out of power at the next election. An understandable reaction given about 70% of the population is linked to growing food. But it is clear that these unsustainable practices are harming everyone. Imports of substandard food is another massive problem. Many are the reports penned about the ‘food mafia’ in Sri Lanka that controls the prices of food and sneaks in large quantities of substandard produce. This is true of sectors that take advantage of protectionism to artificially drive up the price as well as people who sell condemned food. Practices such as large scale livestock farming also results in inhumane treatment of animals. Even though the new Government has established a Food Security Ministry, many of the issues that affect food safety in Sri Lanka remain unaddressed. Policy changes and strictly monitoring will be the only way forward, moreover given that food supply chains now cross multiple national borders. Good collaboration between governments, producers and consumers helps ensure food safety.