FOOD SAFETY: Experts Advise Using AI To Address Consumer Rights

IF ITS NOT SAFE, ITS NOT FOOD/ Experts now want AI to guarantee food safety FILE PHOTO


KAMPALA, Uganda=SHIFT MEDIA NEWS= Every March 15, Uganda joins the rest of the world in commemorating World Consumer Rights Day. This year’s celebrations come against the backdrop of pressing food safety challenges in Uganda. The Global Consumer Center, formerly known as the Consumer Education Trust (CONSENT), has been a leading advocate for consumer protection in Uganda and beyond. Under the leadership of Henry Kimera, the Global Consumer Center has been actively gathering consumer complaints from various regions, including Gulu City, Fort-portal, Kabarole, Mbale City, Kampala, and Wakiso.

During a Consumer Protection Agenda breakfast discourse held at Protea Hotel in Kampala, Henry Kimera emphasized the organization’s commitment to enhancing consumer protection with a focus on improving consumers’ quality of life. This breakfast discourse was part of the activities marking the 2024 World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD) and Consumer Rights Awareness Month. Kimera highlighted CONSENT ongoing Consumer Engagement for Sustainable Food Systems Transformation (CE4SFST) Project in Kenya and Uganda, being implemented in collaboration with the Consumer Grassroots Association (CGA) Kenya and with support from the Biovision Foundation, Switzerland.

As a member of Consumers International (CI) and the Food Safety Coalition Uganda (FoSCU), CONSENT has been engaging with government bodies on utilizing Artificial Intelligence (AI) for consumer protection. The theme for WCRD 2024 was “Fair and Responsible Artificial Intelligence (AI) for consumers,” chosen by Consumers International, a global organization uniting over 200 member organizations from more than 100 countries to advocate for consumer rights worldwide.

Kimera highlighted that over the past three months (January-March), CONSENT has received over 3,000 complaints from consumers across various sectors, including agri-food systems, trade, markets, health, education, transport, electricity, water, sewerage, communication, and digital finance. The findings revealed concerning issues such as poor network connectivity, unexpected charges in communication services, poor customer service, and fraud in different sectors.

In the transport sector, consumers reported grievances related to speeding vehicles, poor mechanical conditions of vehicles, and malpractices among public transport operators. Healthcare complaints included poor customer care, high medical bills, lack of access to specialists in rural areas, misdiagnosis due to negligence, and substandard healthcare facilities.

Within the agri-food system sector, consumers expressed concerns regarding poor quality products, lack of proper labeling, counterfeit goods, pesticide residue, and inadequate product handling practices. In response to these challenges, CONSENT collaborated with various government agencies, consumer organizations, and experts in food safety to explore the use of AI for consumer protection.

Dr. Eng. Dr. Byamugisha, an IT specialist and lecturer at Kampala International University, emphasized the potential of AI in addressing food safety challenges by detecting contaminants, tracing food origins, and predicting hazards in the supply chain. He stressed the importance of leveraging AI tools like sensors, data analytics, and machine learning algorithms to enhance food safety standards.

Patricia Ejalu, Deputy Executive Director of UNBS, shared insights on empowering consumers through AI-enabled solutions, such as food scanning apps for product verification and nutritional information. Dr. Byamugisha encouraged consumers to utilize AI-driven platforms for real-time monitoring of food recalls, allergen alerts, and expiration dates to ensure product safety.

AI also enables consumers to utilize blockchain technology for transparent tracking of food products from production to consumption. Dr. Byamugisha highlighted the importance of reporting mechanisms for consumer safety concerns and emphasized the need for ethical AI practices to safeguard consumer interests.

Despite the benefits of AI, challenges exist, particularly in ensuring the authenticity of information. Dr. Byamugisha emphasized the necessity of establishing guidelines, standards, and enforcement mechanisms to prioritize consumer interests and uphold ethical principles in AI systems.

Henry Kimera, Team Leader at the Global Consumer Center, urged consumers to collaborate with regulatory bodies, industry stakeholders, and policymakers to promote the adoption of AI technologies for stringent quality control measures. He underscored the significance of fair and responsible AI in advancing consumer rights and protections in Uganda, calling for collective efforts to promote ethical AI practices and hold businesses accountable for safeguarding consumer rights.

Shift Media News

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