COVID-19 Accelerates Food Safety Challenges: Creating Hope
This year not only ushered in a new decade, but the arrival of COVID-19 and a new era, which demands calm and a willingness to work together to seek scientific solutions for a better world tomorrow.
Since the start of the pandemic, at Mars we have been doing all we can to help by putting the safety and well-being of our Associates first and working to support the communities in which we operate around the world to help protect those who are most vulnerable in this difficult time.
We believe that industry has a crucial role to play in helping all stakeholders in the global food supply chain identify food safety risks and find solutions, but we cannot tackle these challenges alone. That’s why we advocate a global systems approach, one in which nongovernmental organizations, academia, regulators and industry come together to share data, critical insights and the latest scientific research and knowledge to increase capability. We've been collaborating for years with our partners to raise the bar in food security—in fact, that's why we invested in the Mars Global Food Safety Center in 2015.
As we enter the brave new world required to tackle COVID-19, Abigail Stevenson, Director of the Mars Global Food Safety Center, already has been anticipating some of the challenges likely to impact the food supply chain in 2020. Together with her team of scientists and partners, they are working tirelessly to find and develop innovative solutions and technologies that may offer hope for the future of food safety. Here are four areas that demand attention as countries work toward recovery.
1. Collaboration is key to saving lives
COVID-19 has resulted in an unprecedented need for collaboration and partnerships to act urgently to protect the supply chain and food systems.
At the Mars GFSC, we are proud to collaborate with more than 25 organizations and academic institutions to share knowledge, generate new insights and help improve the resilience of the global supply chain.
We work with partners, such as the World Food Programme, to share our knowledge and help reach some of the most vulnerable people in the world. We have witnessed firsthand the devastating effects unsafe food can have on vulnerable communities. Developing countries, many already struggling with climate change, economic challenges, famine and conflict, are vulnerable and ill-equipped to deal with the pandemic. That’s why $2 million of the $20 million Mars has donated to support the people, pets and communities most affected by COVID-19, has been given to aid WFP in the transport and delivery of critical supplies of emergency food and lifesaving equipment to hospitals as they respond to the pandemic.
2. Sustainability and innovation should go hand in hand
Around one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year—approximately 1.3 billion tons—gets lost or wasted. While this figure is not entirely due to food safety, unsafe food is a significant cause of food waste.
The Mars GFSC is accelerating the discovery and adoption of new techniques and methods that will enhance food safety globally, helping to reduce food waste and build robust food supply chains.
We are exploring exciting new technologies, such as Whole Genome Sequencing, in partnership with Oxford Nanopore Technologies, and academic experts from Georgia State University and Cornell University to more effectively identify foodborne pathogens that make food unsafe.
WGS is a method used to capture and analyse all the information of the entire genome of an organism in one process. It provides a very precise DNA fingerprint that can help link foodborne pathogen cases to one another, allowing an outbreak to be detected and solved sooner.
This year also sees the Mars GFSC making further progress toward tackling mycotoxins and aflatoxins in particular. These toxic fungi have a devastating effect on human health and are known to contaminate around 25% of the world’s crops.
Through our partnership with The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for the Reduction of Post-Harvest Loss, and Kansas State University, we have helped facilitate a state-of-the-art mycotoxin laboratory in Nepal. The facility provides a unique opportunity to determine the source of aflatoxin contamination in the Nepali food supply chain, helping scientists and food producers develop better detection and early intervention mechanisms.
3. Battling food fraud amid COVID-19
The integrity of the food supply chain was already under threat from food adulteration and fraudulent imitations and this problem is set to exacerbate in the wake of the pandemic.
According to the The Consumer Brands Association, food fraud is estimated to cost the global food economy between $10 and $15 billion a year. Work is under way to protect the integrity of raw materials and finished goods, but as the food supply chain becomes ever more complex and food travels faster and farther to the consumer, it’s more important than ever for all stakeholders to collaborate to ensure the integrity of our food chain.
The Mars GFSC is working with global partners to develop a sophisticated “finger-printing” method, which enables food producers and their suppliers to validate the authenticity of certain food materials. A method that ensures the quality of produce across supply chains from production to factory and on to the consumer in real time and without the need to send samples to labs for testing (often many miles away), is a potential game changer for ensuring food safety and minimizing food waste.
4. The world we want tomorrow starts today
On a planet that is home to hundreds of millions of hungry people and urgent pressure from population growth, water scarcity and climate change, the need for partnerships and collaborations between all stakeholders has never been greater.
Now is the time to raise global awareness about food safety issues and urge action to help some of the 820 million people in the world who do not yet have access to enough food to lead a healthy active life. Join us as we continue to seek a world that delivers safe food for all.