Food safety, and aflatoxins in particular, is a significant threat to public health, agriculture and food systems in sub-Saharan Africa.

Each year, almost one in 10 people fall ill from eating contaminated food and 420,000 die as a result. Children under age five are particularly at risk – 125,000 children will die from foodborne diseases this year.

Aflatoxins are invisible poisons which contaminate staple foods, cash crops and animal feeds. They are produced by fungi and can occur throughout value chains making it difficult to target interventions.

Aflatoxin contamination is one of the most pervasive food safety challenges in Africa.

According to José Graziano da Silva, Director General of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), “growing globalisation of markets constitutes a challenge to assuring a safe and healthy food supply: a challenge that can only be met if all countries are able to implement programs that ensure good food safety practices along the food chain”.

This, he says, requires that governments establish adequate policies on food safety, implement regulatory programs that are consistent with Codex and provide for training for all involved across the food system.

The Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition is partnering the African Union Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA) to champion food safety and promoting a growing understanding and political will in Africa to address aflatoxins.

“African governments must act decisively to address the risks of unsafe food and aflatoxins. With the right support and incentives, threats to nutrition and health originating from food can be much reduced,” said President John Kufuor, Co-Chair of the Global Panel.

Food systems are rapidly changing, bringing greater attention to issues of food safety. Detecting and eliminating foodborne risks is becoming more complex and difficult as supply chains become longer with more global actors involved.

A High Level Roundtable on Food Safety and Aflatoxins held on the sidelines of the 12th CADDP Partnership Platform meeting in Accra, launched the Global Panel’s brief on food safety and introduce its key messages to African leaders.

“Food systems are evolving, giving rise to new food safety challenges. Assuring a safe food supply requires the highest level of political commitment to strengthen national systems. This is especially important for Africa and other developing countries,” noted Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, Global Panel Member and President of the African Development Bank.

The Global Panel’s policy brief: Assuring Safe Food Systems: Policy Options for a Healthier Food Supply, reviews critical food safety issues to poor and vulnerable populations in low and middle-income countries. It sets out why governments must pay closer attention to food safety issues and invest accordingly, from production through to consumption.

“International concern over unsafe food is growing. It’s high time that governments and other key stakeholders do more to ensure the supply of safer food for all, and to strengthen food safety information systems across all segments of the food chain,” said Sir John Beddington, Co-Chair, Global Panel.

Story by Kofi Adu Domfeh