WHO Highlights Economic Risks of Unsafe Food

Next Tuesday's World Health Day is focused on food safety.

The World Health Organization is devoting World Health Day 2015, celebrated on April 7, to food safety. WHO said April 2 that new data tell us more about the amount of harm caused by foodborne illnesses and the need for coordinated, cross-border action across the entire food supply chain. World Health Day's theme this year is "From farm to plate, make food safe."

"Food production has been industrialized, and its trade and distribution have been globalized," said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan. "These changes introduce multiple new opportunities for food to become contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemicals. A local food safety problem can rapidly become an international emergency. Investigation of an outbreak of foodborne disease is vastly more complicated when a single plate or package of food contains ingredients from multiple countries."

Unsafe food can cause more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhea to cancers. WHO on April 2 issued the first findings from a broader ongoing analysis of the global burden of foodborne diseases; full results of this research by WHO's Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group are expected to be released in October 2015.

The initial FERG figures, from 2010, show that there were an estimated 582 million cases of 22 different foodborne enteric diseases and 351,000 associated deaths; the enteric disease agents responsible for most deaths were Salmonella Typhi (52,000 deaths), enteropathogenic E. coli (37,000) and norovirus (35,000); Africa recorded the highest disease burden for enteric foodborne disease, followed by Southeast Asia; and more than 40 percent of the people suffering from enteric diseases caused by contaminated food were children under 5 years old.

To illustrate the potential damage, Germany's 2011 E.coli outbreak reportedly caused $1.3 billion in losses for farmers and industries and $236 million in emergency aid payments to 22 European Union member states, according to the agency.

"It often takes a crisis for the collective consciousness on food safety to be stirred and any serious response to be taken," said Dr. Kazuaki Miyagishima, director of WHO's Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses. "The impacts on public health and economies can be great. A sustainable response, therefore, is needed that ensures standards, checks, and networks are in place to protect against food safety risks."

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