People’s health relies on an adequate supply of safe, affordable and nutritious food. When food is labelled incorrectly, produced or packaged in unsanitary conditions or not stored at appropriate temperatures people are at risk of foodborne illnesses.
And, when food is in short supply due to factors, such as climate change, a weak supply chain or economic instability, malnutrition and food insecurity can increase, threatening a country’s health security.
Mongolia has faced the challenge of food insecurity and the food regulatory system. An estimated 1 in 4 Mongolians experience moderate or severe food insecurity, and a large portion of the food available on the market, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, is imported. Additionally, the existing system has not yet been standardized for food inspection and food businesses, and this may increase food safety risks across the production chain.
“All of us have a role to play to ensure that the food we consume is safe and will not cause damages to our health. From farm to plate, food safety is everyone’s business,” says Dr Sergey Diorditsa, WHO Representative to Mongolia.
Strengthening food safety at all levels
Over the past decade, the Government of Mongolia, with support from WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has been working to improve intersectoral cooperation at both local and national levels in order to ensure food safety and control outbreaks of foodborne diseases across the country.
Since food safety is a shared responsibility among multiple stakeholders in Mongolia, including the National Security Council, National Committee on Food Safety, Ministry of Health and Sports, and Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Public Health Institute, General Agency for Specialized Inspection, as well as business and consumers, WHO supported key stakeholders in the country to develop the “Cross-Sector Strategy on Ensuring Food Security (2016–2021)” in 2015.
The strategy has strengthened legal frameworks for the food sector, enhanced food safety coordination and data sharing, developed food safety control mechanisms, strengthened surveillance, and increased overall public awareness about food safety.
Introducing a risk-based inspection system
Over the past few years, a key area of the Government’s work, in partnership with WHO and FAO, has been improving the food safety inspection system. Previously, business operators were responsible for their food products at every stage of the food chain with little external oversight and only general food regulations to follow. Although the Government worked to strengthen its food law in 2012 to include new external oversight on inspections, there was no system in place for verifying and coordinating inspections or recording good practices.
In 2010, the country developed a risk-based inspection system that has worked to reduce the number of ineffective inspections, standardize national inspection tools, and train both business operators and inspectors how to improve food safety. To build the country’s food inspection capacity, WHO trained 42 inspectors in 2015, which has reduced ineffective inspections by 25% and reduced the number of high-risk food facilities by 19%. Additionally, WHO is working with the country to further assess its inspection and monitoring system and to develop risk-based inspection manuals to support training.
“Prior to implementing the risk-based inspection system, food businesses and inspectors were often on opposite sides. One seen as the punisher and the other as the violator,” says Gerelmaa Lkhaasuren, senior state inspector of health, General Agency for Specialized Investigation. “However, today food businesses and inspectors work jointly to create a foundation to reduce food safety risks and have prioritized teaching over punishment. As a result, the number of violations has been reduced.”
Securing the future food supply
While Mongolia has made great strides in improving food safety, it is now continuing to enhance the food sector. Under the President of Mongolia’s initiative on “food supply and food safety”, the country is working to develop agricultural clusters and food production complexes. This initiative aims to secure the domestic supply of food but support the country to become a food exporter.
On World Food Safety Day 2022, Mongolia hosted, “The National Forum on “Food supply and safety – Food production,” organized jointly by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry, FAO and WHO, which was attended by 800 participants from across the country. The aim of the forum was to further advocate for actions to increase food security and ensure a steady food supply in the years to come.
“Today, food security and food safety are becoming more and more pressing issues,” says Enkhmaa Deleg, head of analysis and information division, National Security Council. “In the next 5 years, Mongolians will make a food revolution by fully meeting our domestic needs with 19 main types of food products such as meat products, dairy products, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, turnip, onions, garlic, beets, flour products, greenhouse vegetables, eggs, butter, salt, chicken and vegetable oil.”