Safety Comes First - Food Experts

Food scientists and researchers have stressed the need for the country to look beyond food production and embrace safety. This call was made during the  ‘International Conference of Food Science and Human Ecology (ICOFHEC)’, as well as the ‘Safety Enhancement of Edible Products, Legislation, Analysis and Management (SELAMAT) Workshop’, held in the University.

    Speaking at the occasion, the Chairperson, Local Organising Committee, Professor Folake Henshaw, stated that the conference was organised to create a platform in the Sub-saharan Africa, where participants can exchange ideas and share knowledge on proven strategies that would catalyse actions and policies for improved food, nutrition, security, health and the total well-being of man. According to her, the adoption of the world agenda on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (2016 - 2030), had given a roadmap for individual nations to follow in the next 15 years and to collectively work towards the reduction of over-exploitation of earth’s resources and promote wise utilisation and replenishment, in tandem with the principles of sustainability.

    Expressing her conviction on the benefits that the conference was set to achieve, she disclosed that “it is gratifying to have here today a congregation of experts, scientists and professionals in all the key areas of focus, food, nutrition, health, gender, family livelihood and sustainable food production and systems, who I believe, by their interactions and knowledge-sharing, would proffer strategies for sustainable innovations”.

    Charging scientists and experts in all fields of endeavour to continue to target solving problems and proffering solutions to have local impacts, Professor Henshaw, who is the immediate past Dean, College of Food Science and Human Ecology (COLFHEC) in the University, stated that if not speedily addressed, local problems could lead to global challenges. Meanwhile, the incumbent Dean of COLFHEC, Professor Lateef Sanni, stated that the conference was to establish an international linkage, such that it would hold once in three years, to brainstorm, share experiences and show the way for safer and better quality of food for the nation.

    Lauding ICOFHEC’s initiative, the Coordinator, ‘Safety Enhancement of Edible Products, Legislation, Analysis and Management (SELAMAT) 2016’, Dr. Hans Marvin, noted that SELAMAT was put in place in 2004 and funded through the European Union, by establishing a network with the specific aim that it would become sustainable after four years. He highlighted the objectives of SELAMAT to include bringing together stakeholders (academia, government, regulators and industry) from Europe and Asia in a network to share knowledge, expertise, methodology, best practices and policy developments related to food production.

    Dr. Marvin noted that the essence of the network was to promote food safety, quality and associated issues such as food security, climate change and new technological developments, which could lead to scientific partnerships involving Asian food industries in a concerted effort towards assured, safer and more sustainable production systems.

    The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Olusola Oyewole, who was represented by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Development, Professor Ololade Enikuomehin, noted that the theme for the conference, “Delivering Innovative Approaches in Food, Health and Well-being for Sustainable Livelihood” was apt, particularly, at a time like this, when there was an increasing demand for safe food and energy by the teeming populace, as he charged the participants to employ their transnational and collective efforts in overcoming the challenge.

    The President, Nigerian Institute of Food Science and Technology (NIFST), Dr. Dahiru Adamu, emphasised the importance of food safety, which he said, involved proper handling, storing and preparation to prevent infections and food contaminants, such as Salmonella and Listeria microorganisms, adding that the side effects of food contamination could be devastating and worsened by low level of knowledge, poverty and greed among the people. Dr. Adamu further advised the government to increase and sustain its efforts at creating the enabling environment as well as engender articulated, focused and practicable policy direction, in conjunction with major food value chain stakeholders such as the NIFST, to drive innovation and self-reliance in food production.

    He also encouraged the government to intensify and sustain its current fight against corruption, especially, in the agricultural and food sector, in order to enhance innovations and ensure food security in Nigeria; stressed the need for government to put in place, clear performance measurement standards to appraise government policy outcomes especially in the agricultural and food sector; and ensure  high level foundry and technological input to guaranty sustainable upgrading of Nigeria’s local food products into the global market.

    Other recommendations include the necessity for the 36 states of the federation to be encouraged by the Federal Government to be engaged in modern and robust agricultural system to ensure sustainable increased productivity; call for institutional reforms to streamline the roles of different agencies involved in food safety; the existence of quality policies to ensure effective monitoring and evaluation of foods by relevant agencies of the government; and the need for food safety policies to be given top priority in Nigeria as is being practiced in other developed nations.

    Commending the organisers of the conference, the Economic and Trade Adviser, Embassy of the Kingdom of The Netherlands, Mrs. Sonia Odije-Fajusigbe, noted that the conference was  coming at a time when agriculture was being considered as the green alternative to diversify the Nigerian economy and promote food security, as she quoted the Director-General, World Health Organisation, who stated that, “government needs to give food safety much attention as they devote to quality and safety of pharmaceutical products; as not everyone needs to take medicine every day but all people need food, each and every day”.

    Mrs. Odije-Fajusigbe who also pointed out that food was a basic necessity of life, added that as it is not only a biological need but also a global socio-economic and political commodity; therefore, ensuring food safety is a critical and fundamental component of public health, food security and development. Explaining further, she said that food safety was intricately linked to sustainable development, especially, in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aims to end hunger, achieve food security, improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. These goals, she noted, recognises the inter-linkages with supporting sustainable agriculture, empowering small-holder farmers, food and nutrition, security, climate change, public health and well-being, gender equality and other issues addressed within the set of 17 SDGs and the post-agenda of the SDGs.               

The Economic and Trade Adviser stated that food safety featured prominently to guaranty and promote health and the wellbeing of the general public, hence, the responsibility lies on everyone, from producers to consumers, to ensure that the food consumed do not cause diseases. She noted that the success of the Dutch agribusiness model was built on the concept of the ‘golden triangle’ in which private companies, knowledge organisations and the government play active and interactive roles in innovation, research and development and, therefore, assured of the willingness of The Netherlands to collaborate with Nigeria in the areas of food production, safety and security.

    Mrs. Odije-Fajusigbe further revealed that The Netherlands remained one of the top agricultural producers in the world as well as the 2ndlargest exporters of agri-foods due to its smart solutions, highly developed food safety standards and integrated approach to problem-solving. “The Dutch agri-food sector is one of the main drivers of the Dutch economy and for decades, the Dutch agricultural sector has succeeded in maintaining its lead over international competitors through continual investment in innovation in agri-food value chains”. Other, presentations made at the plenary session of the conference include: ‘Food and Nutrition in Africa, Present Situation and Concerns’; ‘Innovative Approaches in Public Health and Well-being’; ‘Emerging Issues in Right of Right of Child, Gender and family Livelihood’; and ‘Impact of Climate Change on Food Safety’.