Kenya: Sustainable food systems – why we must do more to protect our national food safety standards

Food safety for animal and human nutrition is a public health concern in any jurisdiction around the world.

In all its shades and forms, food security is sensitive to the social stability and development of a country and should be prioritized as an area of ​​concern for all.

The level of food security has direct and indirect effects on national security, economic and social development and must be maintained through strict adherence to strict food standards.

Food consumed by the public or our animals should instill confidence that they are not at risk of contamination. The prevalence of unsafe food, which contributes to the spread of foodborne diseases, negatively affects economic growth by degrading human health standards.

In our country, there have been many incidents in recent times, especially in schools, where contaminated food affects students. Conversations about food security are incident-based and regularly attract national attention.

We need to sustain conversations about food safety beyond the regulatory environment and bring it into the mainstream. I am happy to see that the Food and Feed Safety Control Co-ordination Bill (National Assembly Bill No. 21 of 2023) is making good progress in Parliament and we can soon bring concrete legislation to sustain food safety.

As food security is an important pillar of food security, the quality of food we consume has socio-economic implications in terms of productivity.

According to the World Health Organization, unsafe food causes 600 million foodborne illnesses and 420,000 deaths worldwide each year. 30% of children under the age of five are malnourished. WHO estimates that 33 million years of healthy life are lost annually worldwide due to unsafe food consumption, which may be an underestimate.

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A healthy country means a productive population that is free from foodborne diseases and contributes to national development. Having proper tests on food safety can boost international trade and reputation and boost business for domestic producers who export food.

First, food safety can be increased by investing in food safety training at various levels. At the organizational level, as food companies, we regularly train our employees to recognize hazards when handling our products; Adherence to food safety standards should also be ensured. If it is packaging food safely, what materials and preservatives can be used? If we partner with food delivery services, what standards do we set to avoid food contamination?

When we engage farmers, we train them on how to handle food from their farms. Recently, a report revealed that farmers are using toxic pesticides which, among other effects, affect food safety due to the chemicals they contain. Farmers can be educated about appropriate pesticides to avoid contaminating their crops, which end up on our plates. They can be guided on safe ways to store their produce after harvest to prevent contamination and ensure that what they sell in the market is safe for consumption. We can monitor the water they use to irrigate their farms, as contaminated water increases the risk of food-borne illnesses.

Second, strong laws and policies are needed to prevent food contamination. The National Food Safety Policy 2021 seeks to harmonize food safety standards and regulations to protect and promote consumer health. Lack of adequate resources by supervisory and regulatory bodies limits their mandate to operate. This exposes them to corruption, which endangers public health.

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Stronger laws protect against food adulteration for quick economic gains. As stakeholders we can make our laws better and stronger by lobbying lawmakers on how best to improve food security.

Thirdly, through research we will be aware of contemporary threats to food security. The debate on genetically modified foods is a topical issue that needs to be tackled seriously with improved information sharing.

At Unga Group, we have invested in robust quality assurance systems from talent, software and hardware, including one of the most advanced and certified food safety laboratories in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, we work closely with the regulators of all relevant agencies and have a firm policy of verifying the standards of our products and all safety measures for the welfare of our consumers.