Supporting initiatives to improve food safety across the continent was the focus of an African workshop on food safety jointly organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the National Metrology Institute of South Africa (NMISA).
More than 280 experts and researchers from food safety regulators, food testing laboratories, food manufacturers, and governmental and non-governmental organizations from 43 countries shared experiences on vital topics such as food fraud prevention, radionuclide control, use of radio receptor assays and stable isotope techniques for residues of veterinary drugs and pesticides, as well as mycotoxins, toxic metals and biotoxins.
Participants also addressed responding to foodborne illness and disease outbreaks, setting maximum residue limits, and implementing effective food monitoring and surveillance programs.
“This workshop showed the commitment of the African continent to not only increase food and trade safety nationally and in the region, but also to support the achievement of several Sustainable Development Goals, including good health and well-being, industry, innovation and infrastructure, as well as ending poverty and hunger,” said Shaukat Abdulrazak, Director of the IAEA’s Division of Technical Cooperation for Africa.
“African Union leadership and various stakeholders across the continent discussed cross-cutting food security issues and had a common voice on strategies to support the African Continental Free Trade Area, address food trade rejections and ensure consumer protection and food safety.
During the five-day event held in Johannesburg, South Africa, from June 27 to July 1, 2022, participants discussed the benefits of ISO accreditation for food safety and international trade; ways to collect scientifically reliable data on levels of food hazards, such as mycotoxins, drug and pesticide residues, persistent pollutants, toxic metals and microplastics; and how to develop laboratory tests and reference material adapted to the region, which could allow countries to provide better analytical services.
“We need to develop institutional excellence, which would lead to more ISO accreditation for laboratory services,” said Ndwakhulu Mukhufhi, executive director of NMISA. “This can be achieved by sharing relevant reference material and conducting training programs. Institutions like NMISA are here to support”.
Participants agreed that there was a need throughout the region to raise awareness of food safety among the general public. They also agreed that capacities and mechanisms to set food safety standards, including maximum residue limits, should be strengthened, and that it was important to adopt a One Health approach to food safety in Africa.
“Establishing and promoting networks is a top priority,” said Liang Qu, Director of the Joint FAO/IAEA Center for Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture. “Networks and events of this type offer Member States a platform to share knowledge and experiences on food safety.
Leveraging the strengths of nuclear science, the Joint Center will continue to serve as a mechanism to transfer relevant technology, addressing current and emerging food safety and trade issues.” The workshop coincided with the launch of the Food Security Strategy for Africa (2022-2036) by the African Union Development Agency, which aims to improve public health, food and nutrition security, sustainable livelihoods and economic growth.
The African Union had already established a roadmap to strengthen the capacities of its member countries in the area of food security in its Sanitary and Phytosanitary Policy Framework for Africa launched in 2019.
“The incorporation of the policy framework and strategy in regional economic communities and member states’ long-term strategies and frameworks is critical for sustainable financing and implementation,” added Godfrey Bahiigwa, Director of the African Union Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.