By Tom Heilandt
Codex Alimentarius Commission Secretary
The demise of Alexander the Great, valiant conqueror of Persia and Egypt and monarch of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon, is not one that history books typically associate with a foodborne illness. However, a recent review suggests that it was Salmonella typhimurium enteritis that ultimately brought him down. Similarly, there is one theory that the musical genius, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, is thought to have succumbed to trichinosis, while the fall of the mighty Roman Empire has been attributed, at least in part, to the consumption of lead-tainted wine. These instances serve as a stark reminder that foodborne illnesses have plagued humanity for centuries and continue to pose a significant threat to public health today.
Unsafe food causes more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhea to cancers. The World Health Organization has estimated that at least 600 million people all over the world become inflicted with foodborne illnesses after consuming unsanitary food. Of these at least 420,000 people die every year. The World Bank estimated that unsafe food costs low- and middle-income economies $110 billion in lost productivity and medical expenses each year.
The WHO global strategy for food safety from 2022 to 2030, launched in 2022, emphasizes strengthening national food control systems and promoting food safety as an essential component in domestic, regional and international food trade. Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in its newly released FAO Strategic Priorities for Food Safety within the FAO Strategic Framework 2022-2031 stresses how to improve food safety at all levels by providing scientific advice and strengthening food safety capacities for efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission has a clear mission on its strategic plan 2022-2025, protect consumer health and promote fair practices in the food trade by setting international, science-based food safety and quality standards. Those strategies and mission can be achieved by close collaboration of all stakeholders along the food chain at the national, regional and international levels.
For reference, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, jointly created in 1962 by the FAO and the WHO, is the most important international body in the field of food safety standards. The Codex works to achieve safe, good food for everyone and everywhere, protecting consumer health and ensuring fair practices in food trade. Year 2023 will represent 60 years of activity.
The first meeting of Asia Pacific Food Regulatory Authority Summit was held in Seoul, Korea May 10-11, 2023. The APFRAS Seoul declaration stated that it will work towards enhancing strategic leadership in the Asia-Pacific region and addressing common challenges in the food sector, including emerging technology and novel food. This serves as a noteworthy instance of how regional cooperation can effectively strengthen food safety systems.
Korea has been showing leadership in global food safety. Korea not only hosted a task force on antimicrobial resistance and successfully finalized the important international texts on containing antimicrobial resistance resulting from food sources, but also is supporting the implementation of Codex texts and improving tnational food safety control systems in low- and middle-income countries. In addition, Korea has also contributed to the Codex Trust Fund, helping more countries to participate efficiently in the work of Codex. Those activities are all in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals, global food safety strategies by international organizations and the Codex strategic plan 2020-2025.
As we mark Korea Food Safety Day and World Food Safety Day in the coming weeks, let's remember that food safety is everyone's responsibility. As in the slogan for Korea Food Safety Day, "Together for Food Safety, Healthy South Korea,” by working together, we can ensure that all people have access to safe and nutritious food.
Tom Heilandt is secretary of Codex Alimentarius Commission, an international food standards body established jointly by the Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Health Organization. The views in this column are his own. – Ed.