Food safety on the table at world conference

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at the “Africa Leadership Meeting — Investing in Health Outcomes” held at a hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. (AP)
Updated 12 February 2019

Food safety on the table at world conference

  • The two-day forum is bringing together health bosses and experts from 125 countries to combat the peril of unsafe food
  • Unsafe food kills more than 400,000 people each year, according to UN estimates

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia: Food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites and toxic chemicals is a mounting health hazard and a crippling economic burden, a global conference on food safety has been told.
The two-day forum is bringing together health bosses and experts from 125 countries to combat the peril of unsafe food, a hazard that kills more than 400,000 people each year, according to UN estimates.
“Today, the world produces enough food for everyone,” Jose Graziano Da Silva, director general of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said at the opening of the conference on Monday.
But much of this food “is not safe,” he added.
“We estimate that each year, nearly one person in 10 falls sick after eating contaminated food,” said Kazuaki Miyagishima, who heads the World Health Organization (WHO) food security department.
Of the 600 million people who fall sick from unsafe food, around 420,000 die, according to the UN’s estimate.
Children under five suffer most, comprising 40 percent of those who fall ill.
According to the WHO, contaminated food is to blame more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhea to cancers — and the economic impact is huge but often overlooked.
The FAO estimates the cost for low and middle-income countries to be in the range of $95 billion (83.5 billion euros) per year.
The conference, attended by ministers and deputy ministers from some 20 countries, is expected to issue a call for better coordination and support.
“Africa has a major interest in this,” said Miyagishima, adding the continent, followed by Southeast Asia, is the worst affected by contaminated food.
Miyagishima said a multi-pronged approach was needed.
This includes stronger laws, better training and equipment and beefing up health systems to detect potential risks and swap information countries, he said.
The risks are very diverse, ranging from bacteria such as salmonella or listeria, to chemicals such as cancer-causing heavy metals and organic pollutants.
For countries facing drought or famine, the challenge is preventing the population from using water contaminated by cholera, or eating food unsuitable for consumption.
For countries trying to better respect international norms and export certain food products, Miyagishima warned of a “situation where exported food is of a better quality than products destined for the local market.”
In Europe, Miyagishima said there was a need for faster exchange of information between health authorities, recalling the 2017 contamination of eggs in the Netherlands, which were distributed to numerous countries.
The conference comes at a time of swelling controversy over the use of chemical products in agriculture, including the controversial weed-killer Roundup.
“Regulatory decisions, international or national, should be based on sound science,” he said.
The UN in December announced the creation of a World Food Safety Day on June 7.


Families grieve after Kabul wedding blast

An Afghan man mourns during the funeral of his brother after a bomb exploded at a wedding hall killing 63 people and injuring 200 others. (Reuters)
Updated 39 min 35 sec ago

Families grieve after Kabul wedding blast

  • Bride’s relatives, members of music band among victims of Daesh attack

KABUL: Mirwais Elmi’s special night soon became a bloodbath after a suicide bomber detonated explosives in the hotel hall where his wedding ceremony was taking place, killing more than 63 people and injuring 200 others in Kabul on Sunday. Elmi and his bride, who were in separate areas of the venue, survived the blast. The explosion took place just before dinner was to be served to the nearly 1,000 guests who had gathered in the southwest of the city.
The local Daesh affiliate claimed responsibility for the attack Speaking to a private TV channel on Sunday, a shaken Elmi was unable to describe the carnage that took place.
“I am not a groom today, my family, my friends are all in grief,” Elmi, who is in his early 20s and works as a tailor, said.
He added that he never thought “such an incident would happen during my wedding party.”
As survivors buried victims of the attack, an infant’s milk bottle and an invitation card could be seen near one of the hotel’s walls, badly damaged by the blast.
The attack comes as the US and Taliban close in on a peace deal which would lead to the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, nearly 18 years after the Taliban were ousted. The group immediately distanced themselves from the attack and strongly condemned it.
Elmi’s father-in-law lost 14 members of his family, while another man lost three of his sons, four nephews and five of his aunt’s grandchildren, according to survivor accounts.
“My family and my bride are in shock, they cannot speak. My bride keeps fainting. I lost my brother, I lost my friends, I lost my relatives. I will never see happiness in my life again,” he said. All five members of the wedding’s music band were killed. The groom and bride’s families, like many of those attending the ceremony, belonged to poor families.  
None of the guests were government officials sought by Daesh or other militant groups.

Government leaders live behind heavily protected compounds, drive in armored vehicles and have their families living abroad, but we ordinary Afghans are suffering routinely.

Ghulam Hussien Nasiri, Lawmaker

Many of the victims were children and young men. The hotel had no guards and guests were not body searched, according to survivors.
Shi’ite cultural centers and an anti-government protest have all recently come under attack, but Sunday’s wedding blast was the first of its kind, evoking a reaction from President Ashraf Ghani. He blamed Daesh for the incident. “I strongly condemn the inhumane attack on the wedding hall in Kabul. My top priority for now is to reach out to the families of victims of this barbaric attack. On behalf of the nation, I send my heartfelt condolences to the families of those who were martyred. “The Taliban cannot absolve themselves of blame, for they provide a platform for terrorists,” he tweeted.
Ghulam Hussien Nasiri, a lawmaker, said the attack exposed the government’s weakness.
“Government leaders live behind heavily protected compounds, drive in armored vehicles and have their families living abroad, but we ordinary Afghans are suffering routinely,” he told Arab News.