The Government, within its Big 4 agenda, has given prominence to food and nutritional security as one of its main development pillars. Rightly so, since a well-fed nation is crucial for productivity and contribution to the country’s economic growth. However, this pillar is often misconstrued to solely refer to enhanced food production and equitable volumes.
It is not all quantity, quality
Fundamentally, food and nutritional security is inextricably linked to food safety. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation (FAO), food security is only achieved when people have access to, among others, safe and nutritious food that is necessary for a healthy life. The quantity and quality are bedfellows.
There is great benefit for both public and private sectors to invest more in food safety; consider the foregone socio -economic burden brought about by non-communicable diseases and foodborne diseases derived from, among others, microbes and toxins in food.
The World Health Organization notes that foodborne diseases are responsible for a comparable burden of illness such as cancer and tuberculosis in Africa, with young children bearing the brunt of it. The resulting health cost implications and threat to productivity is incapacitating.
Kenya’s exports are thoroughly grown or produced to meet Codex Alimentarius and other standards required for international trade. At the very core of these standards is safety and protection of consumer health by addressing issues such as food additives, contaminants and hygiene practices. Paradoxically, the same rigour employed by Kenyan authorities and producers to meet these standards is not comparable for locally consumed goods.
Recently, there was an uproar over contaminated milk that originated from Uganda and was destined for the Kenyan market. Luckily, this particular shipment was seized by the authorities before it ended up in our homes. Even so, Kenyan consumers should not rest easy given that the locally traded milk is not entirely exempt from safety issues.
This year alone has seen several media reports of contamination and adulteration by unscrupulous value chain actors, with the most shocking being addition of formalin, a chemical that is typically used in mortuaries.
While the regulatory and governance bodies such as the National Food Safety Coordination Committee, Kenya Dairy Board, Horticultural Crops Directorate and Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service are keen on enhancing safety standards, there is the lingering challenge of poor coordination and inadequate human resource and laboratory testing capacity.
There is also absence of a traceability system that is central to figuring out points and sources of contamination for control. The ongoing saga on contraband sugar whose safety remains a subject of contestation between government agencies clearly shows that food safety control is a cause for concern in Kenya.
Let's make laws
The challenges posed above present an opportune chance for consumers and all value chain actors to rally behind the food safety agenda and lobby that policymakers reinvigorate the process to pass the draft Food Safety Policy which provides establishment of a Food Safety Authority.
In addition, lobby transformation of the Kenya Consumer Protection Advisory Committee (KECOPAC) into a fully-fledged Agency with mandate to assure safe marketplace for all consumers. This will provide the comprehensive legal and regulatory framework needed to alleviate safety issues.
The food safety agenda is already prominent in the global arena. There are talks within the United Nations to have an annual World Food Safety Day aimed at raising awareness on foodborne diseases and to urge governments, private sector and consumers to do more to make food safe. Notably, this year’s World Environmental Health Day in September will focus on global food safety.
While national and global efforts on food safety are laudable, they will only bear fruit if you, the consumer, is keen on the safety of your food. After all, it is not in vain that Article 43 of the Kenyan Constitution grants you the right to the highest attainable standard of health and adequate food of acceptable quality.
In case of unsafe food incident, lodge a complaint by sending the word FNS to 20880 FREE through your phone or visit www.safefoodkenya.com
Wanja Wanjiru, Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS International)