Opinion

Regulations on nutritional quality: Why policy reform is important to nutrition security and sustainability

“Nutritional quality is an important aspect of food and nutrition security. However, its position in policy has been dismissed.” PhD Candidate Sayed Essam explains why global regulations on food importation need to acknowledge the nutritional quality of food.

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Maintaining an acceptable level of food quality and safety is the responsibility of every government to all its citizens. According to Oldewage-Theron (2016), the objective of monitoring and implementing measures for food quality assurance is important in reducing food loses especially in situations where there is a threat to the food security.

The trade of food across the globe is a diverse and complex activity and one in which most nations try to participate. Governments in Europe perceive that a strong national food industry is a critical provider of sustenance to the population and a strong indicator of food security. They additionally see the exportation of food as an essential source of foreign exchange. The development and enhancement of the trade in food can be ascribed to numerous elements.

Firstly, the shelf life of food has been increased through food science and innovation to prevent microbial growth in food. Within the food industry, the range of food products has grown through more advanced protection, handling and bundling systems which make foods less perishable, safer and more appealing to the consumer. Secondly, quick transport and enhanced care techniques have lessened the amount of time taken and challenges related to moving food for long periods of time, subsequently permitting trade access to new and distant foreign markets. Lastly, consumer propensities, habits and tastes for food have encouraged the development of new food products, which is fortifying the interest for traditional and new types of foods from different parts of the world.

While there are regulations for quality and safety, there is also a need to inspect the nutritional quality of food. Nutritional quality is an important aspect of food and nutrition security. However, its position in policy has been dismissed. Arpaia (2017) notes that the nutritional status of urban consumers has decreased in past years. With technological advances and globalisation, food importations have tended to focus on increasing importations of low priced staples to urban consumers. This practice has led to problems of hunger, malnutrition and, more importantly, the prevalence of lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension and other foodborne illnesses. The failure of some governments to have efficient regulations on nutrition quality and appropriate caloric density of food has contributed to a decrease in the health of citizens. For example, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where approximately 80% of food is imported, and 65% of adult woman are obese (Musaiger et al. 2005), questions remain concerning how best to ensure that the foreign exchange used to import food can promote the long-term health of the nation.

Policy development has to be focused on changing people’s perception of food. There is a need to cease seeing food as a commodity to be traded and focus more on the nutritional needs of citizens. Despite varying cultural food habits in different regions, food importation has shifted dietary status and the variable nutritional quality of food has contributed to a failure to complement the nutrients available from staple foods in the region. Should we choose to continue to ignore this problem, we will have exposed future generations to health problems and diminished lifespans.

Policy development should, therefore, focus on safety and nutritional requirements while also taking care of the market requirements of the customer. The development of importation regulations should be expanded to focus on agri-food policy frameworks. The policy frameworks should encourage supply chains where the nutritional quality of food receives due attention from ‘farm to fork’, that is, from food production to retail distribution (Batary et al. 2015). In the interim, while effective policy frameworks are under development in UAE, animated discussions on this topic are being facilitated by the improvement of a multi-layered policy governing the certification and accreditation of foods at the source.

References

Musaiger, A.O., Abu-Aladeeb, N. and Qazaq, H.  (2005). Nutritional Status of Emirati Women in Al-Ain City, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain Medical Bulletin 22(3). 
Arpaia, M. M. (2017). The Right to Safe Food: A Short Path to the Roots of the International Legal Protection of Food Safety. European Food & Feed Law Review, 12(4).
Batáry, P., Dicks, L. V., Kleijn, D., & Sutherland, W. J. (2015). The role of agri‐environment schemes in conservation and environmental management. Conservation Biology, 29(4):1006-1016.
Oldewage-Theron, W. H., & Egal, A. A. (2016). Food Quality and Food Safety. In Temple, N. & Steyn, N.P. Eds. Community nutrition for developing countries. Edmonton, AB: AU Press, Athabasca University.


Sayed Essam is a PhD student at The University of Sydney. Sayed Essam’s interests are in line with food and nutrition security, Planetary Health, innovation and policy development. His work has been used to inform policy development in the UAE.

This blog is a part of SEI’s Student Blog Series, which features original content by Honours, Masters and PhD students at the University of Sydney who are undertaking research on environmental issues and topics. If you are a current postgraduate student at the University of Sydney who would like to participate in the series, click here for details.