Food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites and toxic chemicals is a mounting health hazard and a crippling economic burden, a global conference on food safety has been told.
According to UN estimates, the two-day forum in Addis Ababa is bringing together government officials and health experts from 125 countries to combat the peril of unsafe food, which kills more than 400,000 people each year.
Jose Graziano Da Silva, director general of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said at the opening of the conference on Monday, February 11th, "Today, the world produces enough food for everyone…But much of this food is not safe."
Kazuaki Miyagishima, who heads the World Health Organization (WHO) food security department, also said "We estimate that each year, nearly one person in 10 falls sick after eating contaminated food."
As reported by AFP, the UN has estimated that around 420,000 die of the 600 million people who fall sick from unsafe food. Children under five suffer most, comprising 40% of those who fall ill.
According to the WHO, contaminated food is to blame for more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhoea to cancers -- and the economic impact is huge but often overlooked. Meanwhile, the FAO estimates the cost for low and middle-income countries to be in the range of $95 billion (€83.5 billion) per year.
AU Commission chair Moussa Faki told the conference "Food safety is a crucial issue for everyone on earth, but it is here in Africa that the impact of the scourge is felt most,", adding that a third of those affected come from the continent.
Miyagishima said a multi-pronged approach was needed, noting this includes stronger laws, better training and equipment and beefing up health systems to detect potential risks and swap information countries, recalling the 2017 contamination of eggs in the Netherlands, which were distributed to numerous countries.
The risks are very diverse, ranging from bacteria such as salmonella or listeria, to chemicals such as cancer-causing heavy metals and organic pollutants.
For countries facing drought or famine, the challenge is preventing the population from using water contaminated by cholera, or eating food unsuitable for consumption.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that "food safety is linked to many sustainable development goals".
The conference comes at a time of swelling controversy over the use of chemical products in agriculture, including the controversial weed-killer Roundup.
In December, the UN announced the creation of a World Food Safety Day on June 7th.