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Weekly Overview: Food Security Hits the Headlines

18 October 2012, at 11:28pm

ANALYSIS - This year's World Food Day took place this week, highlighting again concerns about how to feed a growing global population affordably and sustainably. Tough economic times also mean cuts in government services and in the UK, a meeting has warned of food safety issues ahead if inspections of imported foods are not at least maintained. In the US, there are renewed efforts to push for legislation to monitor antibiotic use on farms and in feed mills, aimed to address the issue of antibiotic resistance.

This year's World Food Day, on 16 October, coincided with international concerns about food prices.

First held in 1979 to raise awareness of food security and agricultural issues, World Food Day is celebrated during the annual Committee on World Food Security, which met this week in Rome to discuss solutions to skyrocketing food prices.

Across the world, it is estimated that 870 million people go to bed hungry and with food prices expected to continue upwards, this number is likely to get worse.

Extreme weather conditions have pushed global food prices close to their highest ever levels, sparking debate on the 'food versus fuel' issue. The European Commission was set to propose a five per cent cap on food-based biofuels this week.

Concern is mounting that cuts in government funding could reduce the intensity of food inspections at UK borders, leading to more foods entering the country containing banned residues.

Speaking at an open meeting of the UK Veterinary Residues Committee, agriculture representative, Tim Brigstocke, said that with the UK being only 63 per cent self-sufficient in food, the country relies heavily on imports.

These imports have to be sampled and checked to ensure they do not contain any harmful residues from veterinary medicines or antibiotics, he said, adding that the non-statutory programme for sampling and testing that takes place at UK ports had never been so important.

In the US, a Representative from California has added his voice to the push for a new bill to monitor antibiotic use on farms.

Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member, Henry A. Waxman has announced plans to introduce legislation to increase information on the amount and use of antibiotics in animals raised for human consumption. The bill, the 'Delivering Antibiotic Transparency in Animals (DATA) Act', will provide critical information to the FDA about the amounts and types of antibiotics being fed to livestock.

The bill will require drug manufacturers to provide comprehensive information to FDA on how their drugs are used on farms. The legislation will also require reporting by feed mills for the first time.

In the UK, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) has welcomed the decision to prohibit the advertising of antimicrobials directly to animal keepers from 2013 in a bid to reduce antimicrobial resistance.

And finally, turning to bird flu news, one outbreak of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza has been reported to the OIE from Nepal. The outbreak occurred at the end of August and the situation is now described as 'resolved'. The number of human cases reported by the World Health Organization has remained unchanged for the last two months at 30 cases worldwide this year, of whom, 19 have died.