ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA — International cooperation to achieve food safety and sustainable development is the theme of the two-day International Food Safety conference in  Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The event is hosted and organized by the African Union (AU), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

According to the host organizations, Food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins or chemicals causes more than 600 million people to fall ill and 420,000 to die worldwide every year.  Illness linked to unsafe food overloads health care systems and damages economies, trade and tourism. The impact of unsafe food costs low- and middle-income economies around $95 billion in lost productivity each year. Conference participants noted that because of these threats, food safety must be a priority at every stage of the food chain, from production to harvest, processing, storage, distribution, preparation and consumption, conference participants stressed.

“The partnership between the African Union and the United Nations has been longstanding and strategic,” said African Union Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat. “This food safety conference is a demonstration of this partnership. Without safe foods, it is not possible to achieve food security.”

Around 130 countries are participating in the conference, including ministers of agriculture, health and trade. Leading scientific experts, partner agencies and representatives of consumers, food producers, civil society organizations and the private sector are also taking part.

 “There is no food security without food safety,” said José Graziano da Silva, FAO director-general. “This conference is a great opportunity for the international community to strengthen political commitments and engage in key actions. Safeguarding our food is a shared responsibility. We must all play our part. We must work together to scale up food safety in national and international political agendas.”

The aim of the conference is to identify key actions that will ensure the availability of, and access to, safe food now and in the future. Host organizations said this will require a strengthened commitment at the highest political level to scale up food safety in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“Food should be a source of nourishment and enjoyment, not a cause of disease or death,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO. “Unsafe food is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths every year, but has not received the political attention it deserves. 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.”

Roberto Azevedo, WTO director-general added, “Food safety is a central element of public health and will be crucial in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Trade is an important force to lift people out of poverty … when we reconvene in Geneva in April we will consider these issues in more depth.”

A follow-up event, the International Forum on Food Safety and Trade, will focus on links between food safety and trade on April 23-24 hosted by WTO in Geneva, Switzerland.