Muriira Karau: Why measurement systems are crucial in the global food chain

A weighing machine. 

A weighing machine. 

Photo credit: File

May 20 was the annual World Metrology Day. The world commemorates the signing of Metre Convention by 17 nations on May 20, 1875.

The convention set the framework for global collaboration—and, hence, uniformity—in the science of measurement and its industrial, commercial and societal applications. This year’s theme is “Measurements supporting the global food system”.

The world is facing unprecedented challenges in food security caused by the ravaging impact of climate change.

This has affected the world food systems, calling for proactive actions to innovate new foods and food sources to feed the ever-increasing population with rapidly diversifying needs. Nations are challenged to ensure that measurement plays an integral role in the food chain.

Kenya is a signatory to this convention through Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) and participates in various committee activities to support the global uniformity, reliability and traceability to the International System of Units (SI units) of measurement.

Measurement provides valuable information for policymakers, researchers and stakeholders to understand the dynamics, challenges and opportunities within the complex global food chain systems.

It provide global food metrics such as crop yields, livestock production and aquaculture harvests and objective and quantitative data about the various aspects of food production, processing, storage and distribution.

Measurements are important in identifying and monitoring global food production capacity, shortages and surpluses and, thus, supporting trade. They guide efforts to reduce food wastage and resource utilisation.

Dietary patterns, nutritional needs and food preferences of populations can be established through measurements, by assessing food availability, calorific intake and macronutrient consumption. Such measures are essential in addressing food security, malnutrition and diet-related health issues.

Effects of climate change

Global food systems are influenced by climate change and environmental factors. Measurements of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, waste use, biodiversity loss and soil health provide insights into the environmental impact of food production. This is useful in developing sustainable practices and mitigating the effects of climate change on global food systems.

Chemical metrology helps to combat food fraud and ensure food authenticity and traceability. This is through the measurement of chemical markers, such as isotopic ratios, volatile compounds and DNA sequences to confirm the origin, species, variety and processing history of food products. This supports quality control, protects consumers from deceptive practices and fosters fair trade practices.

Overall, metrology underpins accurate and reliable physical and chemical measurements in various aspects of global food systems, including safety, quantity, nutrition, authenticity, quality control and process optimization. It allows evidence-based decision-making, facilitates trade and helps safeguard the health and well-being of consumers worldwide. Further, this informs interventions aimed at improving global food security, sustainability and resilience.

Chemical metrology supports global food systems by ensuring the accuracy, reliability and comparability of chemical measurements related to food quality, safety and authenticity. It enables accurate measurement of contaminants, such as pesticides, heavy metals, mycotoxins and foodborne pathogens in food products.

These measurements help ensure compliance with safety regulations and standards, protecting consumer health and facilitating international trade by providing confidence in the safety of food products.

Accurate measurement of nutrients and bioactive compounds in food is essential for assessing nutritional content, labelling and claims. We must deliberately support metrology platforms to improve our food systems.

Dr Karau, PhD, is a quality infrastructure expert. [email protected].