By Naomi Sharang
Food is one the fundamental needs of man.
According to Wikipedia, an online encyclopaedia, food is any substance that is consumed to provide nutritional support for the body.
“It is usually of plant or animal origin and it contains essential nutrients, such as fats, proteins, vitamins or minerals,” it says.
However, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) says that not less than three million people globally die every year from food and water borne diseases.
The organisation says that the occurrence of such diseases can easily escalate to a food safety emergency situation, which can adversely affect national economies and livelihoods.
It adds that food safety is essential for increasing food security, which exists when all people have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their daily dietary needs.
FAO insists that the development of relevant and enforceable food safety policies and regulations is, therefore, an essential component of an effective food system.
“Furthermore, food security means that everybody is able to get enough healthy food to be well and active.
“For everybody to get enough healthy food, we need a food system that works well,” it adds.
The UN agency says a food system is made up of five parts, while the parts cover everything from food production to waste disposal.
“All the parts of the food system are interconnected and when there are problems in one part of the food system, it can affect other parts of the system,’’ it says.
Reports, however, indicate that globalisation of the food supply and increased complexities of the food chain have heightened public concern about food safety, particularly for foods traded on a trans-boundary basis.
In a bid to improve food safety in Nigeria, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, calls for the implementation of pragmatic policies and strategies to boost food supply.
His words: “We cannot meet the future food requirements of our people sustainably unless we begin to take urgent steps to put in place the right policies and strategies.
“This is to ensure that our people are not only properly fed but also have more than enough food items to eat, while there are food stores for exports to shore up our revenue.
“Good and healthy diets from safe foods are nourishing to the body and unsafe foods are like poisons to the body, causing unimaginable damage to our system.’’
The minister also underscores the need for Nigeria to address the scourge of new diseases arising from consumption unsafe food, which is gradually becoming rampant in the country.
“We have serious challenges facing the food we eat. Every week, you see people suffering from kidney and liver problems, waiting to be ferried to India for treatment at a very high cost,’’ he says.
Ogbeh, however, says that the Federal Ministry of Health is partnering with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to address these challenges.
“It is my expectation that we shall continue to build on this collaboration and partnership in order to ensure that our people can continue to live healthy through consumption of safe food,” he says.
Also speaking, the Minister of Environment, Mrs Amina Mohammed, says that food safety is a very important disease-prevention tool which can promote public health.
She, nonetheless, moans that the occurrence of food-borne diseases and poisoning in the country has been on the increase.
“We in the Ministry of Environment are committed to strengthening environmental sanitation services, which, in itself, will impact positively on food safety and public health.
“Let me reiterate that the Ministry of Environment, as a formidable stakeholder in the quest to achieve a safe system in our food chain — from the farm to the table — will continue to strive hard.
“We will work with other relevant stakeholders to achieve our ultimate goal of food safety in the country,” she adds.
All the same, stakeholders call on the National Assembly to ensure a speedy passage of the National Policy on Food Safety Bill.
For instance, Dr Peter Francis, an Assistant Director in Akwa Ibom’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, says that the bill is capable of achieving lasting solutions to the issues relating to food safety.
“The bill is in the right direction, particularly in the area of regulating issues regarding food safety in the country.
“By the time this bill is finally passed, the pertinent issues relating to how to attain food safety in Nigeria would have been addressed and the citizens will be better off.
“Farmers will probably have more benefits from their efforts on the food they produce because they will have the opportunity to ascertain that the foods they produce are not only wholesome but also safe for human consumption,’’ he says.
Mrs Abimbola Uzomah, a consultant with United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), says that the bill will involve all issues, right from the farm to the processing, production, distribution stages and finally, to the table.
“Basically, when we talk of safety, we are not looking at the different section now; everybody will benefit because when the food is safe, you are healthy.
“A lot of new diseases are spreading on a daily basis and I don’t know if the diseases are from the unsafe food or water we consume or the chemicals used to process the food.
“We are going to involve all the food safety and regulatory agencies to make sure that the foods we import and export are tested and certified for human consumption,’’ she says.
Nevertheless, Mr John Funsho, a consultant with the FAO and UNIDO on food safety, says that FAO has a programme that aims at strengthening Nigeria’s food safety via institutional framework.
“We hope that at the end of the day, we will be able to change the regulatory and institutional framework so as to have a better food system in place.
“The structure we have today has a lot of imbalances and these disproportions reduce the effectiveness of the country’s food safety.
“If we can reduce the imbalances, efficiency will improve but in efforts to remove the imbalances, there is a need to restructure the food system,’’ Funsho says.
All in all, analysts insist that the establishment of an effective food safety system is pivotal to efforts to ensure the security of the national food supply, as well as the safety of the food products meant for regional and international trade. (NANFeatures)