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
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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.


North Koreans pay tribute to Kim’s father in freezing cold

Updated 4 min 42 sec ago
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North Koreans pay tribute to Kim’s father in freezing cold

  • Referred to as the Day of the Shining Star, the occasion is celebrated with ice skating displays, flower shows, and laudatory tributes in state media

PYONGYANG: The Day of the Shining Star dawned bitterly cold in Pyongyang. But thousands of North Koreans lined up in temperatures of minus 8 degrees Celsius on Saturday to pay their respects to late leader Kim Jong Il on his birthday.
Kim, the son of the isolated North’s founder Kim Il Sung and the father and predecessor of current leader Kim Jong Un, was born on February 16.
According to Pyongyang’s orthodoxy, he came into the world in 1942, in a snow-covered hut at a secret camp on the slopes of Mount Paektu, the spiritual birthplace of the Korean people, where his father was fighting occupying Japanese forces.
Outside historians point instead to official Soviet records, which say he was born a year earlier in a Siberian village where Kim Il Sung was in exile.
Either way, it is a key anniversary in a nuclear-armed nation whose people are taught from birth to revere the “Paektu bloodline,” as the Kim family which has ruled it for three generations is known.
Referred to as the Day of the Shining Star, the occasion is celebrated with ice skating displays, flower shows, and laudatory tributes in state media, all reinforcing the underlying narrative.
Driver Kim Chol Jun, 42, took his two boys to Mansu Hill, where giant statues of the two older Kims look out over the capital, to pay his respects to them and the current leader.
“No sons and daughters feel tired when they visit their parents,” he said. “The great leaders are regarded as our own parents, so I visit here to bow before our parents with my sons.”
Ordinary North Koreans consistently express unequivocal support for the leadership and its policies when speaking to foreign media.
Snow dusted the two monumental panels — one to the fight against Japanese occupiers, the other to the building of socialism — that flank the statues, their faces bathed in the light of the rising sun as small children swept the steps clean.
In pride of place before the bronze effigies stood a large floral tribute emblazoned with the name of Kim Jong Un, who is due to hold his second summit with US President Donald Trump at the end of the month.
Pyongyang is under multiple international sanctions over its pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, which Washington is pressing it to give up. North Korea has rejected demands for what it calls its “unilateral” disarmament.
Turn by turn, groups ranging from couples and families to hundreds-strong detachments of workers or soldiers assembled in front of the images.
After placing individual blooms or flower baskets before the figures, they lined up as an announcer intoned: “Let us pay tribute,” and bowed deeply, the military personnel saluting.
Kim Jong Il died in 2011 and his remains are preserved in a memorial palace on the outskirts of Pyongyang, but officially he remains eternal General Secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea.
Retired actress Ri Cho Ok, 77, instantly became emotional when asked about the late leader, her voice trembling as she described how much she missed him and how standing before the statues brought the incumbent to mind.
Kim Jong Il was a film director himself and renowned cinephile, to the extent he had a top South Korean director and actress kidnapped so they could develop the North’s cinema industry. Pyongyang says their eight-year stay was voluntary.
“The great general taught me step-by-step as I was becoming an actress,” Ri said, “and gave me many orders and medals.”
But, she added, “it was like I received all the honors in the world when I met him.”