Improving the World through Improved Food Safety

By: Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

Food safety may seem an unusual issue for a lending institution created to encourage growth and reduce poverty in developing countries.

Photo courtesy of the World Bank

The World Bank, however, rightly notes that food safety is not only about public health, as important as that is. It is also critical for economic development, expanded market access and trade, and ultimately for the alleviation of poverty. This week in Paris, the World Bank held its first Global Food Safety Partnership Conference and I was immensely pleased to be able to participate.

The Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP) is a major milestone on the road to protecting the health of all people in our increasingly interconnected world. Participants represent governments, industry, academia, international organizations and technical bodies.  Among other things, both public and private members are committed to working collectively for stronger food safety systems and strategies.

FDA’s primary mission is to protect the supply of food and medical products in the United States. Increasingly, though, that mission cannot be carried out completely within our borders. Given that we import half of the fresh fruits and 80 percent of the seafood we consume, to name just two commodities, our efforts must be global.

As I noted during a keynote address, the overarching theme of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act is prevention. The law acknowledges the global movement toward stronger food safety standards and higher assurances that standards are being met, which is a driver of FDA’s transformed import strategy. For FDA, it is essential that we contribute to and rely on capable foreign food safety oversight. Strengthening these food safety systems is the key to maintaining the integrity of the global supply chain. 

Serendipitously, our self-interest coincides with a humanitarian imperative.

Photo courtesy of the World Bank

Up to a third of people in the developing world suffer food and water-borne illnesses every year. More than 2.2 million each year, mostly children, die of those illnesses. Farmers and other food-related enterprises in those countries have little hope of competing in the marketplace as long as their products are suspect.

GFSP is an innovative example of the kind of cooperation we need around the world. It is bringing together food producers and manufacturers, academics, regulators and industry representatives, as well as lenders and borrowers. We all have a collective interest in food safety, and a shared responsibility. When any country improves, everyone wins.

Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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