Discussions of inequality in global food trade typically focus on tariffs, subsidies, import controls and other economic and regulatory factors that give hills and valleys to the trading playing field. But what about inequalities in education and access to technology? What about non-existent food-safety protocols or a lack of means for effective communication of food-safety programs?
These are the real food-trade problems in the developing world – which is to say most of the world, according to the United Nations. All of Africa, all of Asia except Japan, all of the Transcaucasian and Central Asian republics, all of Latin America and the Caribbean, and all of Oceania except Australia and New Zealand are considered by the U.N. to be in one or another stage of economic and/or social development compared with North America and Europe. Moreover, this huge developing swath of the planet contains the overwhelming majority of the world’s food needs.
The University of Minnesota, in conjunction with Cargill, General Mills and several other major food corporations, aims to do something about the non-economic issues that prevent so much of the world from fully participating in food trade and from attaining food security. These organizations have formed the Global Initiative for Food Systems Leadership, a comprehensive effort to strengthen food safety, food security, environmental sustainability and economic stability worldwide.
Dr. Will Hueston holds the endowed chair at the Univ. of Minn. for global food systems and guides the GIFSL. "Most of what I do right now is address paradoxes," he told MEATPOULTRY.com. "For example, there’s a tremendous abundance of food in some countries but hardly any in others. Access to scientific information is simple and easy in some countries but very difficult in others. Food safety is a given in some countries and an unknown in others."
He said that GIFSL’s goal is to help developing nations "capture more of the benefits that food systems provide us while minimizing the risks. We believe that access to an adequate food supply is a basic human right, and the whole world has a shared interest in a sustainable food system, in food security."
Meat and poultry companies, he added, have played a part. Recently, GIFSL, together with Cargill, hosted a team of Chinese food-industry executives as well as government regulators on a worldwide tour of food-safety programs; the tour included stops at major meat-processing plants in the U.S., France and the Netherlands. He noted that the recent pathogen outbreaks traced to peanuts, spinach and lettuce demonstrate that the food-safety risks the meat and poultry industry has had to learn how to control are now perceived as universal, and that the industry therefore has much to offer the world food community in terms of experience and knowledge.
It isn’t just technical knowledge that’s needed. The GIFSL is building a "consortium of educational institutions around the world" – including Helsinki University and China Agricultural University – "to facilitate the passing of scientific information with the development of what we call ‘soft skills.’ What we do in developing countries is a lot of helping people learn leadership and communication skills, teaching how to develop vision and strategies." The organization has also partnered with the U.N.’s World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Trade Organization, the World Organization for Animal Health and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture to deliver leadership programs. So far, these programs have been presented to emerging leaders in more than 35 developing nations.
Hueston told MEATPOULTRY.com that while zero-risk might be the desired food-safety goal within the self-contained environment of a meat processing operation, "it’s unachievable in the world at large. We live in a dynamic system that’s constantly being altered by changes in climate, human population and the movement of things like diseases. What we’re trying to do is help developing nations manage change."
To learn more about GIFSL go to:www.foodsystemsleadership.org.