Improving food safety in emerging economies could have huge benefits for U.S. agribusiness if standards and regulatory frameworks were improved at the local level, according to Russ Webster, a technical expert on food security, governance and economic growth and also chief executive officer of International Development Strategies, an independent consulting firm.
Humanitarian efforts often focus on providing food but don’t create goals for producers and processors to achieve in terms of setting up standards to begin basic enforcement of food safety. If investors and governments work together to put capital into the value chain, having food safety standards in place will help as it reduces risk for investors, he stated.
Webster said the fact is that the food value chain is an important driver of job and wealth creation. If food production is safe — and linked soundly to the marketplace through proper post-harvest handling, processing and transportation — farmers, businesses and consumers all benefit.
The economic impacts affect the U.S. as well. “The lack of such food safety systems prevents emerging countries from becoming good U.S. trading partners, hinders investment in their enterprises and prevents them from evolving into markets for U.S. agricultural technology and food products,” he said.
Webster explained that most of the work happening today is project focused rather than trying to improve the overall regulatory framework that enables a safe food environment to thrive in developing countries.
“The U.S. food industry needs to take the lead in creating a vision for international food safety development — one that not only complements humanitarian assistance and advances sustainable food security but also strengthens the global economy to increase the demand for U.S. products and technologies,” he said.
This will require major changes from within, and U.S. agri-food companies can help advance the cause by demanding food safety reforms as a key requirement for investment.
“Private and public sectors must work together to convince national governments in affected regions to gather the political will to reform policies and invest in food safety research, infrastructure and enforcement,” Webster noted.
Several forums have been established to promote collaboration on food issues among major businesses, development agencies, universities, industry groups and consumer advocates. The governing board of the World Bank-sponsored Global Food Safety Partnership, for example, includes groups such as Mars Inc., the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Still, Webster said, “more is needed. We must find ways to more rapidly scale investments that improve food safety in the most vulnerable regions of the world. Not only is this a humanitarian need, but it also is one of the best opportunities to drive economic growth.”
He added, “The benefits for stakeholders are clear: Consumers gain better health, leading to more productive lives and greater incomes. Farmers gain a better price for their products. Businesses gain markets for their technologies and services, and governments gain from sustainable increases in economic growth — founded mainly on expanding small and medium-sized enterprises.”
Webster suggested that governments and key businesses – at the national level – must come together in a long-term partnership aimed at producing and processing safe foods in all areas of the world.
“There is no downside to this plan of action; it benefits everyone. Food safety is good for consumers, good for humanity and good for the world’s economies, and in the end, good food is good business,” he said.