Food safety on the table at world conference

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at the “Africa Leadership Meeting — Investing in Health Outcomes” held at a hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. (AP)
Updated 12 February 2019
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Food safety on the table at world conference

  • The two-day forum is bringing together health bosses and experts from 125 countries to combat the peril of unsafe food
  • Unsafe food kills more than 400,000 people each year, according to UN estimates

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia: Food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites and toxic chemicals is a mounting health hazard and a crippling economic burden, a global conference on food safety has been told.
The two-day forum is bringing together health bosses and experts from 125 countries to combat the peril of unsafe food, a hazard that kills more than 400,000 people each year, according to UN estimates.
“Today, the world produces enough food for everyone,” Jose Graziano Da Silva, director general of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said at the opening of the conference on Monday.
But much of this food “is not safe,” he added.
“We estimate that each year, nearly one person in 10 falls sick after eating contaminated food,” said Kazuaki Miyagishima, who heads the World Health Organization (WHO) food security department.
Of the 600 million people who fall sick from unsafe food, around 420,000 die, according to the UN’s estimate.
Children under five suffer most, comprising 40 percent of those who fall ill.
According to the WHO, contaminated food is to blame more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhea to cancers — and the economic impact is huge but often overlooked.
The FAO estimates the cost for low and middle-income countries to be in the range of $95 billion (83.5 billion euros) per year.
The conference, attended by ministers and deputy ministers from some 20 countries, is expected to issue a call for better coordination and support.
“Africa has a major interest in this,” said Miyagishima, adding the continent, followed by Southeast Asia, is the worst affected by contaminated food.
Miyagishima said a multi-pronged approach was needed.
This includes stronger laws, better training and equipment and beefing up health systems to detect potential risks and swap information countries, he said.
The risks are very diverse, ranging from bacteria such as salmonella or listeria, to chemicals such as cancer-causing heavy metals and organic pollutants.
For countries facing drought or famine, the challenge is preventing the population from using water contaminated by cholera, or eating food unsuitable for consumption.
For countries trying to better respect international norms and export certain food products, Miyagishima warned of a “situation where exported food is of a better quality than products destined for the local market.”
In Europe, Miyagishima said there was a need for faster exchange of information between health authorities, recalling the 2017 contamination of eggs in the Netherlands, which were distributed to numerous countries.
The conference comes at a time of swelling controversy over the use of chemical products in agriculture, including the controversial weed-killer Roundup.
“Regulatory decisions, international or national, should be based on sound science,” he said.
The UN in December announced the creation of a World Food Safety Day on June 7.


Trump declares emergency for US-Mexico border wall, House panel launches probe

Updated 16 February 2019
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Trump declares emergency for US-Mexico border wall, House panel launches probe

  • The Republican president’s move, circumventing Congress, seeks to make good on a 2016 presidential campaign pledge to build a border wall
  • Within hours, the action was challenged in a lawsuit filed on behalf of three Texas landowners

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency in a bid to fund his promised wall at the US-Mexico border without congressional approval, an action Democrats vowed to challenge as a violation of the US Constitution.

The Republican president’s move, circumventing Congress, seeks to make good on a 2016 presidential campaign pledge to build a border wall that Trump insists is necessary to curtail illegal immigration he blames for bringing crime and drugs into the United States.

Within hours, the action was challenged in a lawsuit filed on behalf of three Texas landowners, saying that Trump’s declaration violates the US Constitution and that the planned wall would infringe on their property rights.

Both California and New York said that they, too, planned to file lawsuits.

Hours after Trump’s announcement, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee said it had launched an investigation into the emergency declaration.

In a letter to Trump, committee Democrats asked him to make available for a hearing White House and Justice Department officials involved in the action. They also requested legal documents on the decision that led to the declaration, setting a deadline of next Friday.

“We believe your declaration of an emergency shows a reckless disregard for the separation of powers and your own responsibilities under our constitutional system,” said the letter, signed by Chairman Jerrold Nadler and other top Democrats on the panel.

Trump has been demanding for a wall on the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) southern border

Trump on Friday also signed a bipartisan government spending bill that would prevent another partial government shutdown by funding several agencies that otherwise would have closed on Saturday.

The funding bill represented a legislative defeat for him since it contains no money for his proposed wall — the focus of weeks of conflict between Trump and Democrats in Congress.

Trump made no mention of the bill in rambling comments to reporters in the White House’s Rose Garden.

He had demanded that Congress provide him with $5.7 billion in wall funding as part of legislation to fund the agencies. That triggered a historic, 35-day government shutdown in December and January that hurt the US economy and his opinion poll numbers.

By reorienting his quest for wall funding toward a legally uncertain strategy based on declaring a national emergency, Trump risks plunging into a lengthy legislative and legal battle with Democrats and dividing his fellow Republicans — many of whom expressed grave reservations on Friday about the president’s action.

Fifteen Democrats in the Republican-controlled Senate introduced legislation on Thursday to prevent Trump from invoking emergency powers to transfer funds to his wall from accounts Congress has already committed to other projects.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, and top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer swiftly responded to Trump’s declaration.

“The president’s actions clearly violate the Congress’s exclusive power of the purse, which our Founders enshrined in the Constitution,” they said in a statement. “The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities in the Congress, in the courts, and in the public, using every remedy available.”

Members of the migrant caravan that has made its way from central America to the US-Mexico border

The first legal challenge, filed in federal court in Washington, came from three Texas landowners along the Rio Grande river claiming they were informed the US government would seek to build a border wall on their properties if money for the project were available in 2019.

The lawsuit, filed on their behalf by the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, also named the Frontera Audubon Society as a plaintiff whose “members’ ability to observe wildlife will be impaired” by construction of a border wall and resulting habitat damage.

The suit contests Trump’s assertion of a national emergency at the border to justify the president’s action.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, describing the supposed border crisis touted by Trump as “made-up,” and New York state’s Democratic attorney general, Letitia James, both said they planned to challenge Trump in court.

Trump acknowledged his order would face a lengthy court fight.

“I expect to be sued. I shouldn’t be sued. ... We’ll win in the Supreme Court,” he predicted.

Trump may have also undermined his administration’s argument about the urgency of the situation when he told reporters, “I didn’t need to do this. But I’d rather do it much faster.”

In their letter to Trump, House Judiciary Democrats said that language had left them “troubled.”

Both the House and the Senate could pass a resolution terminating the emergency by majority vote. However, any such measure would then go to Trump, who would likely veto it. Overriding the veto would require a two-thirds vote in both chambers.

Although Trump says a wall is needed to curb illegal immigrants and illicit drugs coming across the border, statistics show that illegal immigration via the border is at a 20-year low and that many drug shipments come through legal ports of entry.

Confronted with those statistics by reporters at the Rose Garden event, Trump said they were “wrong.”

Also present were a half-dozen women holding poster-sized pictures of family members killed by illegal immigrants. Trump noted their presence in announcing the emergency declaration.

He estimated his emergency declaration could free up as much as $8 billion to pay for part of the wall. Estimates of its total cost run as high as $23 billion.

As a candidate, Trump repeatedly promised Mexico would pay for the wall. It was one of his biggest applause lines at his campaign rallies. Mexico firmly refused to pay, and now Trump wants US taxpayers to cover the costs.