A sustainable food system for a safe future.

Still uncertain, the origins and development of the present pandemic of Covid-19 tell a familiar story: something broken within our food system. As it occurred with other viruses, like Ebola or the avian flu, the over exploitation of resources and the undervaluing of socio-environmental conditions eventually led to a clang between human needs and natural boundaries. So, how can we prevent our way of producing and consuming food from causing novel, merciless disruptions like Covid-19? The answer lies in a secure, safe, and sustainable food system.

Today, June 7th, 2021, is World Food Safety Day. It reminds us the importance of a secure food system to prevent foodborne illnesses and promote good human and environmental health. In fact, this year’s theme ‘Safe food now for a healthy tomorrow’ emphasises the importance of a food system that cares for and strengthens the connections between nature’s health, human well-being, and decent social conditions. Safe food is a driver to prevent foodborne risks, but at the same time backs food security, economic prosperity, and sustainable development.

According to the WHO Initiative to Estimate the Global Burden of Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG), in 2010 global hazards caused 600 million foodborne illnesses and almost half a million deaths. Again, those who suffer most from food insecurity are underdeveloped countries, fragile people, and the poor, especially children and women. 

But why is food safety so important for sustainability? Or better, why is sustainability necessary for food safety? Just consider that water pollution, contaminants in the soil, the loss of biodiversity, and foodborne illnesses, are also the result of unsustainable production, such as in the case of the uncontrolled overuse of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

It is a matter of fact: food safety is crucial to promote both sustainable development and social empowerment. The proliferation of foodborne pathogens and contaminants can no longer be ignored or underestimated, especially by those countries whose force can shape and determine the life of the weakest. Food safety, together with food security, needs to be addressed promptly throughout the adoption of ecological practices to produce healthy food; but also, with a careful and sustainable way to process, transport, store and consume it. 

With an increasing population and a constant degradation of biological and social conditions around the world, there are even more people who are in need for actions to be taken when food security and safety is the matter. Programmes, such as the One Health approach, already bring to the table a strategy to address the issue of food security with an eye on both human and environmental conditions. 

But this is not enough, if we do not  want to undergo the exceptional effects of mining the balancing forces of our planet, we need to make a greater effort, at all societal levels, to reduce anthropogenic influences on the Earth.  

The current structure of the global food system is a major cause of poor health and environmental degradation, but also a possible driver of sustainable development. It is time to reconsider how we produce and consume food, to promote a food supply chain able to take care of the weak and the environment. We need to change, and today is another day to recall it.


FAO. One Health. 

United Nations. World Food Safety Day 7 June. 

WHO (2015). WHO estimates of the global burden of foodborne diseases: foodborne diseases burden epidemiology reference group 2007-2015. ISBN 978 92 4 156516 5. 

WHO (2021). A guide to World Food Safety Day 2021. Safe food now for a healthy tomorrow (2021).