WHO Foodborne Diseases Stakeholder Meeting 2009
Bridging the Research-Policy Gap in Food Safety
Making their voices heard again for the third year, stakeholders representing the multi-faceted landscape of food and food safety gathered during a major event held during the annual meeting of the Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG). The World Health Organization's (WHO) Initiative to Estimate the Global Burden of Foodborne Diseases brought stakeholders together to discuss 'bridging-the-gap' between research and policy-making.
Objectives of this two-day high-level meeting included:
- Updating the stakeholders on the Initiative and its progress to date
- Presenting the first preliminary foodborne disease burden results generated by the Initiative
- Sharing knowledge and innovative ideas on how to bridge the research-policy gap through interactive working group sessions
29 October 2009 - Progress to Policy
Dr Keiji Fukuda, Special Adviser to the Director-General, opened this year's event expressing a strong commitment from the Director-General and WHO to the growing threat of food safety, a threat that in many cases is preventable. "Food is of universal importance," he claimed, "so is its safety. We all have a stake in making sure we can count on food."
Dr Jørgen Schlundt, Director of the WHO Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses, presented the relevance of the efforts to estimate foodborne disease burden to food safety. Dr Claudia Stein, head of the Initiative, then gave an overview of the Initiative's strategy, structure and outputs thus far, including a preview of the first preliminary results. The scientists who had conducted the work then elaborated on these preliminary data including:
- diarrhoeal disease mortality in persons older than 5 years which may have been significantly underestimated in two regions of the world alone;
- approximately 20,000 deaths a year from dog tapeworm; and
- a rate of 1-2% of peanut allergens in industrialized countries.
"Although these results are preliminary, they are truly a milestone for the FERG and for food safety," added Dr Stein. "For the first time, we have a glimpse into the real impact and costs of some foodborne diseases – and this is just the beginning."
As results become available, questions are now arising as to how emerging data can be used in food safety policy. Dr Tikki Pang, Director of the WHO Department of Research Policy and Cooperation started this discussion by outlining the importance of actively promoting the translation of burden estimates into policy and proposed possible methods and approaches, as well as lessons learned.
A lively discussion subsequently took place between the panel and the stakeholders present, demonstrating fully the importance of the day's major theme: policy.
Workshops designed to put into perspective the day's presentations were held in the afternoon. These workshops identified effective collaborations as well as opportunities and barriers in bridging the research-policy gap.
30 October 2009 - Policy Consultation and Beyond
A special consultation meeting with international policy-makers and policy experts took the stakeholders' discussions on translating burden data into policy to another level. The second day of the Stakeholder Meeting began with Dr Schlundt's presentation on the importance of evidence-informed food safety policy as well as its significance for managers and other partner initiatives such as the Codex Alimentarius or the World Trade Organization.
Ms Tanja Kuchenmüller, leading the Initiative's policy work, presented an overview of the rationale, objectives and structure of the Initiative's most recent task force which focuses on country studies. Besides the generation of foodborne disease burden data at country level, this task force will advise on how to increase the impact of national burden research on the policy-making process.
A comprehensive review of methods and tools involved in knowledge translation was presented by Dr Pierre Ongolo-Zogo from the Centre for Development of Best Practices in Health in Cameroon. Dr Ongolo-Zogo brought a wealth of experience and lessons learnt in applying the 'young science' of knowledge translation in real circumstances, a key element that provided a concrete context to refer to for the workshops.
Building on the information presented in the morning as well as the previous day's outputs, the workshop series continued to explore:
- Information needs for food safety policy and the ways that burden estimates contribute to policy needs
- Knowledge translation methods which are particularly applicable in the development of food safety policy
- Essential components of a policy situation analysis in the context of food safety
The Stakeholders have spoken - FERG has listened
Over 70 participants attended the two-day stakeholder event. It was rewarding to welcome new members to the already solid base of returning participants. Stakeholders have provided valuable input regarding communications, advocacy and policy during past events.
"It's obvious that you've listened. I can see firsthand the progress throughout the past years, and that our recommendations were valued and taken into consideration," said Dr Dieter Schillinger, representing the International Federation for Animal Health (IFAH) and having attended all FERG stakeholder events.
As in previous years, the Initiative will appraise and incorporate the rich input received from the stakeholders into its future planning and implementation. It was encouraging to note that the policy work that the Initiative is preparing to fully embark upon has also been recognized as a priority by the stakeholders.
This unique forum for exchange will take place again during the fourth meeting of the FERG in November 2010.
For more insights from participants in the two-day stakeholder event, please see: