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Ways forward for food safety in countries bearing the brunt of the world’s food-borne diseases


RoadsideMeatInNairobi_Cropped

Roadside meat for sale in Nairobi, Kenya (picture on Flickr by Andrew Chipley).

This article is written by Delia Grace

A new paper on food safety in low- and middle-income countries was published today (27 Aug 2015). The paper is based on a longer learning resource commissioned by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), which will appear shortly. Both publications reflect what the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and its partners have learned over the last ten years since adopting a framework of risk analysis for assessing, managing and communicating about food safety in developing countries.

Some conclusions
The evidence indicates that low- and middle-income countries bear the brunt of food-borne disease; that developing-country consumers are concerned about food-borne diseases; that most of the known burden of food-borne disease comes from biological hazards; and that most food-borne disease results from eating contaminated perishable foods sold in the ‘informal food markets’ common in developing countries.

Microbial pathogens may cause a burden of 18 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) a year; food-borne parasites cause similar levels of illness, disability or early death; and aflatoxins consumed by people lead to 1–2 million DALYs. The full burden of chemical hazards is unknown.

What we do know is that the total burden of food-borne illness (38 million) is higher than that of lung cancer (32 million), malnutrition (35 million)  and neglected tropical diseases (26 million).

Food-borne disease has been increasing in some developed countries and is likely to increase in the world’s low- and middle-income countries as well as a result of massive increases in the latter countries in the consumption of risky foods (livestock and fish products and fresh vegetables and other produce) and of lengthening and broadening food value chains, which require the bulking of more foods and their transport over longer distances.

The on-going rapid intensification of livestock and fish production systems in many developing countries may also cause more food-borne illness, as may the increasing vegetable production systems in and around cities that rely on wastewater and untreated human and/or animal waste.

There is little evidence yet of effective, sustainable and scalable interventions to improve food safety in developing countries, but we already see some promising approaches. For example, building on existing food systems is likely to be more successful than attempting to impose completely new systems.

Given the global importance of food-borne disease, a priority must be improving the ways we assess interventions to improve food safety in resource-scarce environments. We see opportunities to improve food safety through use of new and better-used technologies, through innovations along the food value chains, and through restructuring food safety governance, but we don’t yet well understand the feasibility and effectiveness of these approaches.

The widespread concern over food safety in low- and middle-income countries and the growing evidence of the health burdens and economic costs of unsafe food make it necessary, and likely, that this area receives greater attention in future.

Read the whole paper: Food safety in low and middle income countries, by Delia Grace, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health,  2015, 12(9), 10490–10507; doi:10.3390/ijerph120910490.

Delia Grace is a veterinary epidemiologist and food safety expert at ILRI, based in Nairobi, Kenya, where she leads an ILRI research program on Food Safety and Zoonoses; Grace also leads an Agriculture-Associated Diseases flagship project of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH); the latter multi-institutional program is led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Read other ILRI articles on the topic of food safety in developing countries:

Towards professionalizing—not criminalizing—informal sellers of milk and meat in poor countries, 6 Aug 2015

Reducing human exposure to aflatoxins in poor countries: Towards new technologies and practices, 3 Aug 2015

The rise of antimicrobial resistance (lethal) and animal agriculture (critical): Their links in developing countries, 18 Jun 2015

Food scares: Agrifood systems everywhere need greater cooperation and investments in safer foods and farming, 16 Apr 2015

Managing the most nutritious, and riskiest, foods in the informal markets of developing countries, 11 Apr 2015

Despite contamination concerns, Africa must embrace ‘wet markets’ as key to food security, 27 Jan 2015

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