WTO and WHO seek to ensure food security

Food security threatens the lives of millions around the world, especially those in underprivileged countries. Organizations such as the WTO and WHO embody the most effective tool to secure the strategic future of food safety. 

Background

Food safety is critical to the well-being of every nation regardless of their economic status. Over 600 million people fall ill each year, with 420,000 casualties, as a result of food contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins or chemicals. Causing strain on healthcare systems while damaging economies unsafe food costs low – and middle-income economies around $95 billion in lost productivity each year according to WHO.

Food insecurity, directly linked to wealth and poverty, impacts the ability of a nation to economically develop their capabilities, especially pertaining to agriculture. Quality, nutritious food is essential in positively impacting well-being, security perception, poverty reduction and trade opportunities. Affordability, availability and accessibility are the key variables in measuring food security. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) is an agency of the United Nations that is focused on matters of international public health. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, WHO has played a significant role in mitigating threats posed by diseases, best evidenced by its successful drive to eradicate smallpox. WHO seeks to end world hunger and malnutrition by 2030. A key component of this drive is to ensure food security.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an intergovernmental grouping that deals with the regulation of international trade between nations. As the largest economic agency in the world, WTO boasts 164 member states and seeks the reduction of tariffs and other barriers to trade. 

Analysis

Seeking global cooperation, the First International Food Safety Conference at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia was held on February 12, 2019, hosted by the African Union (AU), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), WHO and WTO. The Director-General of WHO, stated, “ensuring people have access to safe food takes sustained investment in stronger regulations, laboratories, surveillance and monitoring. In our globalized world, food safety is everyone’s issue.”

The conference was aimed at pinpointing key actions that ensure the availability of, and access to, safe food. Noting the opportunities for improving food safety, especially through technological innovation, the conference outlines newer challenges such as climate change, globalization of food production, burgeoning global population and urbanization. Global food procurement systems are complex and interlinked thereby “blurring lines of regulatory responsibility.” Solutions to these issues require collaborative action across every level of the global food chain. 

Understanding the cooperative nature of the endeavour, the conference highlighted how important it is for food safety systems to keep pace with the manner in which food is produced and consumed. This requires “sustained investment and coordinated, multi-sectoral approaches for regulatory legislation, suitable laboratory capabilities, and adequate disease surveillance and food monitoring programs, all of which need to be supported by information technologies, shared information, training and education.”

Between April 23 and 24, 2019, a follow-up event will be hosted in Geneva by the WTO. The International Forum on Food Safety and Trade is expected to garner international support and lead to tangible actions that secure the strategic future of food safety. The WTO, as the premier institution for trade regulations, is best suited to tackle issues connected to the global food market. This is due to its ability to institute regulations. The size of global food trade requires groupings of financial partners to maintain sustained investment in an arena subject to constant innovation and development. The WTO remains largely free of political deviations, allowing the issue to be framed, in partnership with the WHO, as a humanitarian and financial concern. Simultaneously, a system of checks and balances will be evident, a result of the WTO’s commitment to easing trade between its member countries.

Assessment

Our assessment is that food safety is among the most pertinent challenges facing the world today and requires immediate attention. We believe that issues pertaining to food safety are effectively resolved through trade mechanisms, such as the WTO, working in conjunction with humanitarian organizations such as WHO. 

India Watch

The Global Food Security Index of 2018 places India 77 out of 113 nations, losing a place from the previous year, receiving a score of 44.1 out of 100. In 2013, Parliament enacted the National Food Security Act that institutes a right to food for every citizen of the country. Availability remains India’s largest problem, a result of its burgeoning population and subsequent requirements of arable land and water for irrigation. Problems of accessibility are primarily centred around issues of food distribution and poverty. 

 

Image Courtesy: Dungodung [Public domain]