Monday, 16 June 2014

Not just food security – but also food safety

(First appeared in Consumer News Namibia Magazine January 2013)

Namibia is facing one of the worst droughts in the past three decades.  The Office of the Prime Minister, in March 2013, budgeted to assist about 331 000 people in communal areas that are classified as food insecure. In the meantime that amount has ballooned to almost 560 000 by December of the same year. The areas affected by the drought were mainly communal (rural) areas and resettled farms. Through the Office of the Prime Minister’s relief programme the government has distributed maize, beans, tinned fish as well as game meat.

During this period, most of the development partners have focused on poverty or food security, but very few have emphasized the need for food safety. Consumer organisations (in Namibia and abroad), also emphasize food safety when discussing food security, as this is the assurance that eating something will not damage your health.  This is an absolutely fundamental requirement, and as important as having enough food to eat.

According to Wikipedia:
Food safety is a scientific discipline describing handling, preparation, and storage of food in ways that prevent foodborne illness. This includes a number of routines that should be followed to avoid potentially severe health hazards. The tracks within this line of thought are safety between industry and the market and then between the market and the consumer. In considering industry to market practices, food safety considerations include the origins of food including the practices relating to food labeling, food hygiene, food additives and pesticide residues, as well as policies on biotechnology and food and guidelines for the management of governmental import and export inspection and certification systems for foods. In considering market to consumer practices, the usual thought is that food ought to be safe in the market and the concern is safe delivery and preparation of the food for the consumer.”

The food safety challenges facing Namibia are still many. They include a lack of standards and policies, uncoordinated or perhaps even disjointed governance between organisations, inadequate testing facilities (though the Government is addressing this), lack of trained staff, porous borders with our neighbours and an absence of enforcement of the rules regarding food safety.

Perhaps it is time to asses our ability to not only react to a drought and the provision of food, but also include an element of food safety to ensure that all the people in the country are able to eat something that will not damage their health. After all the first two components of the consumer rights charter worldwide are the right to satisfaction of basic needs and the right to safety.

Milton Louw is a consumer activist and author. The opinions in this article are solely his own and in his personal capacity.

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