Food safety and food security

Marshalee Valentine

Thursday, January 24, 2019

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The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) defines food security as existing when “all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. As we can see from this definition of food security, it is inextricably linked with food safety — the safe preparation and storage of food to prevent illness and injury — and both need to be considered when driving our agricultural initiatives. Along with providing us with the required nutrients for sustenance of life, our food can also potentially be a source of harm if not produced and distributed under safe conditions. In trying to produce food to meet the needs of the population, hazards such as agricultural chemicals, modified organisms, microbiological pathogens, naturally occurring toxins, allergens, intentional and unintentional additives may be introduced to our food. This is where we will need to introduce food safety programmes, international standards and technology that will ensure that we meet the needs of the population while ensuring safe and quality food is supplied.

Jamaica has come a far way in adopting preventative approaches and international standards to manage the risks involved in food safety. Locally, the Bureau of Standards ensures that the basic food safety requirements are met and inspects food-processing facilities to ensure they are at least HACCP-compliant. However, companies that wish to export to Canada, United States and Europe will need to be certified to an international standard such as ISO 9001: 22000, Safe Quality Food (SQF), Primus GFS, etc. This will force companies to monitor their practices and incorporate technology that will promote the safe production of food.

Our next step should be promoting more widely the incorporation of increased technology into our farming practices through precision agriculture. This encourages better yields, while ensuring that we produce safe food consistently. Precision agriculture will also ensure food security by ensuring there is less wastage from the disposal of contaminated and spoilt produce. Precision agriculture uses specialised equipment, software and IT services to access real-time data about the conditions of the crops, soil and ambient air, among other important information surrounding crop production. The information collected can be used to provide farmers with guidance on optimal planting times, crop rotation, soil management practices and harvesting. This ensures that there is control over water, fertiliser and pesticide usage. Additionally, this form of agriculture ensures that there is adequate record keeping and monitoring your Good Agricultural Practices, which will put you a step further in getting certified to international certification such as Global GAP© .

One critical area we tend to ignore in food production and safety is the adoption of technology that will ensure that our inputs and final products are traceable throughout the production and supply chain. Globalisation and the awareness of potential hazards that may exist in the food chain demand that we implement traceability systems to be able to provide confidence that we have full control over food that is being produced and distributed. The recall of an entire batch of product has long been a mammoth task for regulatory agencies, but technology has provided individuals the opportunity to trace products with secured quick response of SQR codes. This has provided consumers more confidence in the safety and integrity of the food supply chain.

Institutions such as the College of Agriculture Science and Education are constantly producing innovative agricultural leaders and food professionals by offering degree programmes such as Food Chemistry, Food Processing Technology, Information Technology, Agricultural Information Systems, Agricultural Extension, Agri-Business and Agri-Tourism Management to equip young graduates with the knowledge necessary to approach agriculture and food processing in a manner that ensures farming and food handling are approached with modern, safe and sustainable methods.

To ensure that our nation has food security, we need to continue to adopt technology, practices and standards that will secure safe and good-quality food that is produced efficiently and consistently.

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