It is intended that the new global strategy will provide an overall vision and strategic priorities for concerted global action that will underline both the importance of food safety as a public health priority and the need to enhance its critical role as a public health component in food systems. In discussing the strategic priorities, some participants suggested that the broad focus should be on national food safety systems rather than on national food control systems. Food systems encompass the entire range of actors and their interlinked value-adding activities involved in the production, aggregation, processing, distribution, consumption, and disposal of food products that originate from agriculture, forestry or fisheries, and parts of the broader economic, societal, and natural environments in which they are embedded. In the context of a food systems approach, the national food safety system would be the combination of activities of all stakeholders in the food chain to safeguard the health and wellbeing of people, while fostering economic development and improving livelihoods by promoting access to domestic, regional, and international markets.
The different components of the national food safety system would include, but would not be limited to, the national food control system (official food controls conducted by government agencies); food safety management systems (risk-based systems based on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles conducted by food business); foodborne disease surveillance systems (responsibility of the health sector); national food monitoring system for pesticide/residues/mycotoxin contaminants (part of official controls conducted by government agencies); animal disease surveillance systems (part of official controls conducted by veterinary agencies). Animal disease surveillance is important both for zoonotic pathogens and for animal specific disease. Many animal specific diseases can disrupt supply changes, e.g. Foot and Mouth Disease and African Swine fever and sick animals require antimicrobial treatment which can trigger the development of AMR in non-target microbes.
For the purposes of this strategy and to ensure alignment with the standards, guidelines, and codes of practice of the Codex Alimentarius, the WHO, in consultation with the FAO, has proposed that the term national food control system will be used where referring to the national food safety system. A national food control system of policies, procedures, and plans, includes a mandatory regulatory approach together with scientific information and preventative educational strategies that protect the whole food chain. This includes effective enforcement of food legislation, along with training and education, community outreach programs, and promotion. TAG members noted the importance of aligning with the Codex Alimentarius on the usage of terminology. However, concerns were also expressed as “food safety systems” is the terminology used in the WHA73.5 and the usage of “food control systems” can create an impression with those who are not familiar with the Codex standards, that the strategy only focuses on the control functions carried out by governments while excluding the activities of other relevant stakeholders in food safety. The 5 Strategic Priorities agreed by participants are:
· Strategic Priority 1: Strengthening national food control systems.
· Strategic Priority 2: Identifying and responding to food safety challenges resulting from the transformation and global changes in food systems.
· Strategic Priority 3: Increasing the use of food chain information, scientific evidence, and risk assessment in making risk management decisions.
· Strategic Priority 4: Strengthening stakeholder engagement and risk communication.
· Strategic Priority 5: Promoting food safety as an essential component in domestic and international trade.
An additional strategic priority was proposed to include technical cooperation to enhance the food safety situation in developing countries. Fostering regional and global cooperation and international connectivity should be a key theme for the strategy.
Countries have flexibility to determine how best to design their food control system and implement a wide range of control measures. The Codex Alimentarius Principles and Guidelines for National Food Control Systems will assist Member States in reviewing and strengthening their national systems (11). While recognizing the diversity of national food control systems at different levels of development and the wide range of food safety hazards, FAO and WHO have developed a framework for developing national food safety emergency response plans to assist Member States to develop country-specific plans (12). Today’s global challenges are transforming the way we produce, market, consume, and think about food (13). The provision of a long-term safe, nutritious, and affordable food supply is a global endeavor and how we grow, produce, and sell food impacts us all, either as stakeholders in national and global agri-food value chains or as consumers of the increasing variety of food that is produced domestically or imported. The complexity of global food systems, and the speed at which they can change, demands that governments and competent authorities have a clear view of the connectedness between the global and regional food systems within which food is produced, distributed, and sold, and the food control system they regulate. Food safety is a core enabling factor to successfully transform food systems and Member States need to be aware of food safety issues as the transformation of food systems accelerates.
In many countries, different government ministries have a strong interest in decisions on food control measures made by the competent authority and their inputs may need to be considered as part of the decision-making process. Competent authorities can benefit from the use of international guidelines on multi-factor decision-making to promote consistency and transparency in their choice of control measures (14). A One Health approach to risk management generally involves cross-disciplinary inputs when responding to new or emerging risks arising at the human-animal-plant-environmental interfaces. As health threats become more complex, mitigation cannot be achieved by one sector acting alone. Food safety authorities may have to factor in public, veterinary, and environmental health considerations in establishing control measures. As an example, use of antimicrobials of critical importance (15) to public health may require their partial, or even, total withdrawal from use in food animal production because of the likelihood of antimicrobial resistance.