High costs because of unsafe food

Unsafe food and foodborne diseases create high costs in low- and middle-income countries. According to experts from the World Bank, better managing the safety of food would significantly contribute to achieving multiple Sustainable Development Goals, especially those relating to poverty, hunger and well-being.

The impact of unsafe food costs low- and middle-income economies about USD 110 billion in lost productivity and medical expenses each year, the World Bank reported in late October 2018. The report notes that a large proportion of these costs could be avoided by adopting preventative measures that improve how food is handled from farm to fork.  

Foodborne diseases caused an estimated 600 million illnesses and 420,000 premature deaths in 2010 according to the World Health Organization. This global burden of foodborne disease is unequally distributed. Relative to their population, low- and middle-income countries in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa bear a proportionately high burden.  

They account for 41 per cent of the global population yet 53 per cent of all foodborne illness and 75 per cent of related deaths. Unsafe food threatens young children the most: although children under 5 make up only 9 per cent of the world’s population, they account for almost 40 per cent of foodborne diseases and 30 per cent of related deaths.

The economic side 

Experts translated these grim statistics into economic terms to focus government attention on the need for greater investment, better regulatory frameworks, and measures that promote behaviour change. The results were published in the World Bank report The Safe Food Imperative: Accelerating Progress in Low- and Middle-Income Countries, which is a collaborative effort involving multiple researchers and practitioners and draws on data and insights from the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and other partners. 

They found that the total productivity loss associated with foodborne disease in low- and middle-income countries is estimated to cost USD 95.2 billion per year, and the annual cost of treating foodborne illnesses is estimated at USD 15 billion. Other costs, though harder to quantify, include losses of farm and company sales, foregone trade income, the health repercussions of consumer avoidance of perishable yet nutrient-rich foods, and the environmental burden of food waste.

The experts support a shift in approaches to food safety regulation. They criticise that the traditional approach centres on enforcing regulatory compliance through product testing and food facility inspections, and the application of legal and financial penalties for infractions. They say that greater emphasis should be placed on providing information and other resources to motivate and empower food-sector operators to comply with food safety regulations. 

More information: The Safe Food Imperative: Accelerating Progress in Low- and Middle-Income Countries
(The World Bank/ile)

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