National action needed to implement food safety strategy

The implementation of a new global food safety strategy will be a challenge, according to a member of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Technical Advisory Group on Food Safety.

Yongning Wu, from the China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment, said countries are at different stages with their national food safety systems and a tailored approach would be needed. Foodborne disease surveillance in many nations is managed by the health sector and there can be limited links with food safety authorities and testing laboratories.

Delegates at the 75th World Health Assembly recently adopted the Global Strategy for Food Safety 2022 to 2030. The update is to ensure food safety systems are modernized and multi-sectoral collaboration is strengthened. Countries were encouraged to either develop national implementation roadmaps or use existing food safety policies and programs, and to allocate resources to the problem.

The WHO Director-General must report back on progress in implementing the plan to the World Health Assembly in 2024 and every two years until 2030.

The revised strategy aims to support countries in efforts to prioritize, plan, implement, monitor, and regularly evaluate their actions toward reducing the burden of foodborne diseases. WHO will publish guidance to help member states to implement the new strategy and develop work plans including investment cases and baseline surveys.

The Chinese government’s proposed roadmap for domestic food safety included a zero tolerance of systemic food safety risks by 2020 and improving the level of assurance and establishing a strict, efficient, and socially governed food safety system by 2027, said Wu in China CDC Weekly, as part of an issue to mark World Food Safety Day on June 7.

The strategy aims to achieve the modernization of food safety governance and oversight of the food chain by 2035 and universal modernization of food safety governance throughout China, and to be one of the leading counties for food safety standards and governance by 2050.

Choice of indicators
In the WHO strategy, indicators are used to provide information about progress toward a target so action can be taken if required. One indicator is foodborne diarrheal disease incidence per 100,000 population. The proposed target is to achieve a 40 percent reduction in the global average by 2030 compared to the 2010 baseline.

In China, there is a lack of background data for disease burden of foodborne illness and diarrheal diseases. However, an enhanced surveillance system is now in place to detect and monitor foodborne diseases and food contamination, said Wu.

China has cautioned about the interpretation of surveillance data and using it to compare countries, as this may reflect the systems and laboratory capability rather than the true incidence and prevalence of the disease.

Technical Advisory Group members suggested foodborne outbreaks might be a better indicator although there are still issues around comparability between countries because of differences in epidemiological investigative ability and surveillance systems. Foodborne diarrheal disease statistics also overlook data on chemical contamination of food.

Other ideas included using sub-indicators under the main indicators. These could focus on a country’s testing capacity, to see if it is looking for certain foodborne pathogens and identify gaps in the surveillance system.

Wu said countries might be reluctant to report data due to potential trade implications and global targets might need adapting for regional and domestic levels.

“The challenge with setting targets is that there are limited baseline studies within countries, which means that the target-setting experience in the regions is very subjective. Another important issue is that countries have different capacities, so it might be more reasonable to set different targets for different countries or regions,” he said.

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