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Book Review: Ensuring global food safety – Exploring global harmonization

Rice_2‘Food Security is on the agenda’ is a line often heard in gatherings of policy makers, development and non-governmental organizations. These people work tirelessly to ensure a post-2050 world that could feed itself.

However, policy-makers could derail the food security agenda, albeit unintentionally, if their pieces of legislation are not meticulously calibrated. Regulations governing food trade across borders could go beyond the perimeters of sound science, and cause the destruction of huge quantities of food in one region, in the face of food security challenges in another.

Conversely, there’s a potential threat to human life within an unregulated food trade environment.

How to create a sound balance, and locate the sweet spot within these seemingly competing, but inherently complementary imperatives of ensuring food safety without harming food security, is the theme of the book ‘Ensuring Global Food Safety – Exploring Global Harmonization’, edited by the Global Harmonization Initiative.

Organized into 24 chapters, and authored by more than 50 experts, the book provides a thorough examination of food safety legislation around the world. It reads very well, obviously due to its simple structure, friendly fonts and formatting technique.

The book addresses several topics including traditional and ethnic foods – delicacies enjoyed by numerous tribes and tongues whose food has become more than just food to the rest of the world. Chapter 22 highlights the benefits and safety of bioactive compounds packed in traditional foods. Read together, Chapter 22 makes a perfect companion to Chapter 19 which deals with nutraceuticals as possible sources of future food ingredients. These topics rightly earn their space in the book.

One omission is the absence of scientific positions, even if varied, on the safety of genetically-modified foods. However, what is lost by the absence of GM topics is covered by the discussions on Nanotechnology, a similarly hot topic in the food safety narrative. Essentially, the arguments in support or against GM technologies in foods are similar to those related to Nanotechnology.

But harmonizing food safety regulations on a global scale requires a few additional imperatives that must also happen globally. Therefore, chapters 5 and 20 respectively deal with the need for global harmonization of analytical methods, and international standards. Perhaps, harmonization is critical today for at least two reasons:

a)    It is a global scandal that more than a billion people should live in hunger, when tonnes of food are lost to a regulatory regime informed more by speculative danger than by sound science.

b)    National sovereignty and borders are unknown concepts in the microbial domain. Food outbreaks in one country are a cause for concern everywhere else. Nothing, therefore, makes harmonization an-all important obligation than our common humanity, which unfortunately is confined within one geographical space.

In the end, however, harmonization is only possible, the book argues, if the scientific capacities of less endowed regions are developed; because no amount of analytical guidelines or universal altruism would lead to the adoption of a completely harmonized regulatory regime, if less developed countries do not have the scientific wherewithal or the physical infrastructure to support such efforts.

This book is a must-read for policy-makers especially within the Ministries of Trade, Food and Agriculture, and related agencies. It is a good technical material for the Food and Drugs, and the Ghana Standards Authorities, Universities, Research Institutions and Students of food science, international relations, development economics, agribusiness, and associated disciplines.

By Hanson Arthur

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