World Food Day

Spotlight on climate change’s effect on food security, safety

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Climate change, Food security

The message blasting out from World Food Day events is ‘adapt now, or the consequences will be grave’. While the world’s poorest will bear the brunt, food safety could be affected everywhere.

"Global warming is already underway and adaptation strategies are now a matter of urgency, especially for the most vulnerable poor countries,”​ said Alexander Mueller, FAO assistant director-general for natural resources management and environment department.

He noted that the worst hit will be hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers, fishers and forest-dependent people in poor countries. Adaptation strategies need to be urgently developed in those countries, he said, with the review of land use plans, food security programmes, fisheries and forestry policies to protect the poor from climate change.

However the present slide towards climate catastrophe is not solely a matter of interest for the world’s poor. Indeed, it is argued that developed countries have an even greater responsibility to helping those still going through the development process.

Avoiding protectionism

FAO director-general Jacques Diouf cautioned yesterday that a reduction of aid to developing countries in the light of the world banking crisis, and introduction of protectionist measures, could bring about another global food crisis next year.

Soaring food prices last year plunged an additional 75 people into hunger and poverty. Even though the 2008 cereal harvest looks likely to be record-breaking, with predictions it could reach 2232m tones, crop failures, conflict, insecurity or prices that are still high.

The withdrawal of international support as countries seek to cushion themselves against financial upheaval could prove cataclysmic.

“Last year it was the pan,”​ said Diouf. “Next year it could be the fire.”

Climate and food safety

This week the FAO Committee on World Food Security is meeting in Rome with representatives from more than 100 countries and civil society organizations, in order to assess trends in the world food security and nutrition situation.

As part of this, a seminar took place on Tuesday to address the health effects of climate change on food and water safety and nutrition.

Beyond adequate nutrition and food security, climate change is expected to have big implications for the work of risk assessors, such as EFSA (European Food Safety Authority).

For instance, changes in crop production practices could lead to more agrochemicals being used; and plant and animal diseases , presenting new challenges to risk assessors. The distribution and spread of plant and animal diseases could also be affected.

“Given the scale of the challenge facing us, EFSA and other risk-assessment bodies will need to work closely not only with each other but also with international organizations, Member States and other partners to share relevant information and develop appropriate systems to identify, analyse and tackle emerging risks brought about by climate change,”​ said Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, EFSA’s executive director.

EFSA has already taken action by creating a dedicated Emerging Risks Unit, with a view to protecting consumers’ health in the face of changes.

Dr Ezzeddine Boutrif, Director of the Nutrition and Consumer Protection Division of FAO, says: “Recognizing, understanding and preparing for the effects of climate change on food security, food safety and nutrition require strengthened interdisciplinary approaches, given the interactions among human, animal and plant health, the environment and food hygiene.”

In response, FAO has already extended its EMPRES [Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animals and Plant Pests and Diseases] programme to include food safety. This should enable it to enhance FAO’s capacity to collect and analyse intelligence for the early detection of food safety problems and to develop guidance for managing emerging risks.

Related topics: Market Trends

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