• Lauren Napier

UN World Food Safety Day: A Cross-Sectoral Approach as Food Safety is 'Everyone's Business'

Updated: Jun 8


“Disasters don’t stop for a virus.”[1]

We are now firmly in monsoon season in India and Southeast Asia. 1 June started the Atlantic hurricane season in the United States. Protestors rally in the United States and Hong Kong. Coronavirus is still a threat even with easing of lockdown policies across the globe. And if that weren’t enough, we are still battling climate change, gender inequality, and food safety and security.

Today, Friday, 7 June, marks the 2nd United Nations World Food Safety Day supported by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and in connection with Sustainable Development Goal 2 – Zero Hunger. This year’s theme: “Food safety, everyone’s business” should be a moniker for all disasters. We as humanity must work together to achieve greatness and support those in need for if we go it alone, we will never succeed.



What is food safety and security?

Food safety – “If it is not safe, it is not food.”[2]

The United Nations considers four dimensions of food safety: availability, access, utilisation, and stability.[3] This can be seen through the food supply chain. First, we need availability of food or ingredients in order to produce food. This relies heavily on agriculture which in turn relies on weather and environmental conditions, access to workers, economic stability, and the list goes on. So even from the start, we have so many factors for, as an example, a tomato to grow, let alone be purchased and eaten. All the disasters mentioned above plus flooding, mudslides, earthquakes, tornadoes, inability to work … just to paint a picture on how anything can affect the availability of food. The same can be said for access to food. Not everyone in the world has access to the same quantity or quality of food. Utilisation “is commonly understood as the way the body makes the most of various nutrients in the food.”[4] Lastly, quality food needs to be available every day, not periodically. This stability can become unstable because of natural disaster, unemployment, rising food prices, or other political or economic issues. For food safety to turn into food security these four dimensions “must be fulfilled simultaneously”[5].


“When food is not safe, there can be no food security and in a world where the food supply chain has become more complex, any adverse food safety incident has a negative impact on public health, trade and the economy. Yet food safety is regularly taken for granted.”[6]


Food security – “There is no food security without food safety.”[7]

There are three types of food insecurity – chronic, transitory, and seasonal. Chronic food insecurity is long-term and stems from poverty, lack of access, and means “people are unable to meet their minimum food requirements over a sustained period of time”[8]. Transitory food insecurity is short-term and stems from shocks to the socioeconomic system such as sudden changes in food prices. Seasonal food insecurity falls between the other two types and is cyclical in nature stemming from “climate, cropping patterns, work opportunities and disease”[9].


“Food security is achieved when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to food that meets their dietary needs for an active and healthy life.”[10]

Space Enabled Applications in Support of Food Safety and Security

Credit: European Union - Copernicus
“To help society to become fully aware about the potential deriving from the use of satellite-based technologies, it is important to map the user needs to create a dialogue both with the space community and the non-space one. It is then important to present the potential return of the investments, demonstrating the benefits they will have, not just the technical aspects.”[11]

Space enabled applications such as Earth Observation (EO) and Remote Sensing offer tools and solutions supporting food safety and security. These applications “help in the monitoring of crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries, aquaculture, and in supporting farmers, fisherfolk, foresters and policymakers in efforts to employ diverse methods of achieving sustainable food production and to respond to related challenges, such as adverse weather conditions, droughts, floods, desertification and land degradation, vegetation fires, and disasters triggered by natural phenomena”[12]. One example, monitoring agricultural production, uses satellite imaging and data in real-time to identify and track crop development, health, and changes. “… space-based platforms provide inputs for environmental analysis, irrigated landscape mapping, yield determination and soil analysis.”[13] This can support State and non-state actors in enhancing their supply chain and food outputs through crop and production forecasting. Additionally, “reliable, timely and credible information enables planners and decision makers to handle deficits or surpluses of food crops in a given year in an optimal manner.”[14]


Ancillary to using space enabled applications to monitor agriculture, the same satellite technology can also monitor weather. For global food safety and security relies on weather conditions throughout the supply chain. “Meteorological satellites provide measurements of atmospheric humidity, temperature and atmospheric winds, concentrations of greenhouse gasses and aerosols, could-cover density and cloud particle properties; and allow for near-continuous monitoring of global weather conditions and forecasting.”[15] Therefore, it can already be established that the food sector can be connected not only to the space sector, but also to the meteorological and climate change sectors as well. As can be monitored from space, climate change is affecting all regions of the globe. “Climate change is associated with altering geographic occurrence and prevalence of food safety hazards.”[16] Warmer weather begets harsher weather conditions which has direct impacts on food production and can break down the food supply chain, raise food prices, and further alienate lower income societies from having access to enough food.

Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger


· “An estimated 821 million people were undernourished in 2017.”[17]
· “The majority of the world’s hungry people live in developing countries, where 12.9 per cent of the population is undernourished.”[18]
· In sub-Saharan Africa the number of undernourished people increased from 195 million in 2014 to 237 million in 2017 – an increase of about 14 million a year.[19]

Supporting food safety and security is also about supporting the workforce. “Agriculture is the single largest employer in the world, providing livelihoods for 40 per cent of today’s global population. It is the largest source of income and jobs for poor rural households.”[20] It is critical on many levels that we achieve the goals of SDG 2, which means it is also imperative that sectors work together holistically toward achieving SDG2. The space sector is, and can continue, to be a part of this cooperation and collaboration. Space enabled applications offer data from the local to the global level on a real-time and continuous loop. Satellite data can offer comparisons, forecasting and trends as well new and more sophisticated solutions as satellite and data science and technology continues to evolve.

Space Enabled Applications as a Driving Force

Credit: NASA
“Better data is needed to understand the far-reaching impacts of unsafe food.”[21]

Common threads across sectors are the need for stronger and better solutions for capacity building and open data sharing. One excellent example of open data sharing within the space sector is the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) and the GEO Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS) portal. Their vision includes “a future wherein decisions and actions for the benefit of humankind are informed by coordinated, comprehensive and sustained Earth observations and information”[22]. GEO offers a detailed report on The Value of Data Sharing including a new set of Data Sharing Principles for the second decade of GEO (2016-2025). Capacity building, or capacity development, is a key solution for the space sector. It is a tool used to support various types of end users and, especially, to support developing States wishing to enter into the space sector. One prime example of capacity building is the United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA) International Partnership Programme (IPP). “IPP uses the UK space sector’s research and innovation strengths to deliver a sustainable, economic or societal benefit to developing countries.”[23] Currently there are four agriculture projects started in 2017 and two agriculture projects started in 2018 which will be reported on in 2021. One of these, the Pest Risk Information Service (PRISE), “aims to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, contribute to a reduction in hunger and increase food security in Zambia, Ghana and Kenya … by enabling farmers to reduce crop losses from pest outbreaks …”[24]. This project uses EO as well as on-the-ground observations while working closely with the target States and partners.


While the space sector does still grapple with its own issues regarding open source data and capacity building initiatives, credit must be given for those institutions which – like the examples above – that are at least using taking these tools and applying them to other sectors in need of space enabled applications. There are of course many more examples that could be given, and we should encourage more, especially across sectors.


Want Data? Here are some great tools for accessing space enabled data [25]:

· Group on Earth Observations GEOSS Portal

· Committee on Earth Observation Satellites Data & Tools

· NASA Earthdata Search

· GEOGLAM’s Crop Monitor for the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS)

· NASA Giovanni

· Worldview tool from NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS)

· Copernicus Open Access Hub

· World Resources Institute (WRI) Resource Watch

· GEO-WIKI by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

· Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS-NET)

· JAXA Global Satellite Mapping of Precipitation (GSMaP)

· NASA Integrated Multi-Satellite Retrievals for Global Precipitation Mission (GPM) (IMERG)

The Food Safety Future: Coronavirus Pandemic and the New Normal

“The world is currently facing one of the greatest food emergencies in more than a generation.”[26]

As we are moving toward a ‘new normal’ on what is hopefully us coming down the Coronavirus mountain, now is the time to look at the most critical issues in a more holistic manner with a stronger cross-sectoral approach. Policy makers and decision makers need to see that tackling the pandemic is also tackling climate change, food safety, and global inequality. The recommendation for moving forward is to really start having conversations outside of the space sector. We need to not only talk about how space enabled applications can support socioeconomic issues such as Coronavirus, but space should also be part of a wider disaster risk reduction plan and policy. As seen above, there is a large amount of data available (and even more from the private sector – though not free) however it is not enough to just say to someone ‘hey, here is some great satellite data’ without making sure they understand how to analyse and utilise it as well. This is why the capacity building tool is such a powerful one if used to its full potential. Finally, it is critical that we also use space data potential along the entire supply chain and with various types of end user. Yes, we need policy makers and decision makers to want to add satellite data to their toolkit, but we also need those at the other end, such as farmers, to understand how the data can support them on a day-to-day basis and what that looks like in their work routine. To quote an African proverb: “it takes a village to raise a child.” To paraphrase: it takes a village – all of society – to raise humanity to a long-term sustainable future.

The Centre for a Spacefaring Civilization, through its Space and Sustainability Programme, aims to continue to disseminate results on political, legal, and socioeconomic research discussing the importance of adding space enabled applications to a States’ or non-state actor’s policy toolkit in order to support the long-term sustainability of humanity. If you are interested in working with us, talking with us, or supporting us we are always happy to hear from you. Because it really does take a village!


The opinions expressed in these blogs posts are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Centre for a Spacefaring Civilization or anyone else.


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[1] Craig Fugate, former administrator of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as quoted by Maya Wei-Haas, ‘What Happens When Natural Disasters Strike During a Pandemic’ National Geographic (17 April 2020) < https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/04/what-happens-when-natural-disasters-strike-during-coronavirus-pandemic/> accessed 03 June

[2] World Health Organization, ‘Food Safety, Everyone’s Business: A Guide to World Food Safety Day 2020’, <https://www.who.int/who-documents-detail/a-guide-to-world-food-safety-day-2020> accessed 03 June

[3] World Health Organization, ‘Food Safety, Everyone’s Business: A Guide to World Food Safety Day 2020’, <https://www.who.int/who-documents-detail/a-guide-to-world-food-safety-day-2020> accessed 03 June

[4] Food and Agriculture Organization, ‘An Introduction to the Basic Concepts of Food Security’, <http://www.fao.org/3/a-al936e.pdf > accessed 03 June

[5] Food and Agriculture Organization, ‘An Introduction to the Basic Concepts of Food Security’, <http://www.fao.org/3/a-al936e.pdf > accessed 03 June

[6]World Health Organization, ‘Food Safety, Everyone’s Business: A Guide to World Food Safety Day 2020’, <https://www.who.int/who-documents-detail/a-guide-to-world-food-safety-day-2020> accessed 03 June

[7] World Health Organization, ‘Food Safety, Everyone’s Business: A Guide to World Food Safety Day 2020’, <https://www.who.int/who-documents-detail/a-guide-to-world-food-safety-day-2020> accessed 03 June

[8] Food and Agriculture Organization, ‘An Introduction to the Basic Concepts of Food Security’, <http://www.fao.org/3/a-al936e.pdf > accessed 03 June

[9] Food and Agriculture Organization, ‘An Introduction to the Basic Concepts of Food Security’, <http://www.fao.org/3/a-al936e.pdf > accessed 03 June

[10] World Health Organization, ‘Food Safety, Everyone’s Business: A Guide to World Food Safety Day 2020’, <https://www.who.int/who-documents-detail/a-guide-to-world-food-safety-day-2020> accessed 03 June

[11] Alessandra Vernile, ‘Space for All: How to Connect Space and Society Raising Awareness on Satellite Applications for Societal Needs’ (70th International Astronautical Congress, Washington D.C., October 2019) < https://www.eurisy.org/data_files/publications-documents/47/publications_document-47.pdf?t=15730> accessed 3 June

[12] United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs, ‘Space for Agriculture Development and Food Security: Use of Space Technology within the United Nations System’ (2015) 1

[13] United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs, ‘Space for Agriculture Development and Food Security: Use of Space Technology within the United Nations System’ (2015) 26

[14] United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs, ‘Space for Agriculture Development and Food Security: Use of Space Technology within the United Nations System’ (2015) 26

[15] United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs, ‘Space for Agriculture Development and Food Security: Use of Space Technology within the United Nations System’ (2015) 30

[16] World Health Organization, ‘Food Safety, Everyone’s Business: A Guide to World Food Safety Day 2020’, <https://www.who.int/who-documents-detail/a-guide-to-world-food-safety-day-2020> accessed 03 June

[17] United Nations, ‘Sustainable Development Goals, Goal 2 Zero Hunger’ <https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/hunger/> accessed 03 June

[18] United Nations, ‘Sustainable Development Goals, Goal 2 Zero Hunger’ <https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/hunger/> accessed 03 June

[19] United Nations, ‘Sustainable Development Goals, Goal 2 Zero Hunger’ <https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/hunger/> accessed 03 June

[20] United Nations, ‘Sustainable Development Goals, Goal 2 Zero Hunger’ <https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/hunger/> accessed 03 June

[21] World Health Organization, ‘Food Safety, Everyone’s Business: A Guide to World Food Safety Day 2020’, < https://www.who.int/who-documents-detail/a-guide-to-world-food-safety-day-2020> accessed 03 June

[22] Group on Earth Observations, ‘The Value of Open Data Sharing’ (2015) 4

[23] United Kingdom Space Agency, ‘UK Space Agency International Partnership Programme: Space for Agriculture in Developing Countries’ (2018) 6

[24] United Kingdom Space Agency, ‘UK Space Agency International Partnership Programme: Space for Agriculture in Developing Countries’ (2018) 46

[25] Earth Observations in Service of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (EO4SDG), ‘Zero Hunger A Primer on Sustainable Development Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture’ (2017) 9-10

[26] Group on Earth Observations, ‘GEOGLAM and COVID-19: Responding to an emerging food security emergency’ (7 May 2020) < http://www.earthobservations.org/geo_blog_obs.php?id=428> accessed 3 June



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