Food Safety


ILRI Clippings

Written by Silvia Alonso

Veterinary epidemiologist Silvia Alonso works at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), where she contributes to the food safety flagship of the CGIAR Research Program for Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), which is led by ILRI’s sister organization the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

Alonso had some eye-popping things to say about food safety in Africa at the ‘First FAO/WHO/AU International Food Safety’ conference, held in Addis Ababa, 12–13 Feb 2019.

But first, for context, see below what The Economist Espresso had to say about this week’s food safety conference in the Ethiopian capital, where a Global Food Safety Partnership report was launched, to which ILRI scientists made many contributions (Hungry for change: Food safety (12 Feb 2019).

‘With an estimated 600m cases each year, food-borne diseases are an under-appreciated public-health problem. Africa, which suffers 137,000…

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Locally made beef stew sold in Bagnon market at Yopougon, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire (photo credit: ILRI/Valentin Bognan Koné).
Locally made beef stew sold in Bagnon market at Yopougon, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire (photo credit: ILRI/Valentin Bognan Koné).

Donor investment in food safety in sub-Saharan Africa should have greater focus on the needs of consumers in Africa, according to a new report by the Global Food Safety Partnership.

The report, Food safety in Africa: Past endeavors and future directions, analysed donor investment in over 500 food safety projects undertaken in sub-Saharan Africa since 2010. It found that more than half of these projects were focused on overseas markets and less than half on consumers in sub-Saharan Africa, most of whom rely on informal food markets and bear the greatest health burden of unsafe food.

According to estimates from the World Health Organization, foodborne disease in Africa results in 137,000 deaths and 91 million cases of illness a year. Globally, foodborne disease has a public health burden similar to HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

Recognizing that food safety is essential to the success of Africa’s agriculture-led development strategies, the report’s authors, whose partners included the International Livestock Research Institute and the African Development Bank, make three key recommendations for targeted investment aimed at improving food safety in sub-Saharan Africa:

Better address the health of domestic consumers dependent on informal markets. Governments and international donors should put citizen health at the heart of national food safety systems, establishing health-based goals, priorities, metrics and strategies and helping to generate the missing evidence needed for rational planning.

Build capacity for well-governed, evidence- and risk-based food safety systems. The donor community and national governments should endorse principles of science- and risk-based prevention, adapted to local conditions.

Harness today’s marketplace drivers of progress on food safety. Donors and national governments should support the consumer and marketplace drivers of progress on food safety through well-informed and empowered consumers, able to demand food safety, and a private sector that has capacity and accountability to respond to consumer demand.

Access the report, Food safety in Africa: Past endeavors and future directions, and related resources

Rinsing fresh fish, Accra, Ghana

Rinsing fresh fish in Accra, Ghana (photo credit: ILRI/Kennedy Bomfeh).

A new World Bank study finds that the impact of unsafe food costs low- and middle-income economies about US$ 110 billion in lost productivity and medical expenses each year. Yet a large proportion of these costs could be avoided by adopting preventative measures that improve how food is handled from farm to fork. Better managing the safety of food would also significantly contribute to achieving multiple Sustainable Development Goals, especially those relating to poverty, hunger and well-being.

Foodborne diseases caused an estimated 600 million illnesses and 420,000 premature deaths in 2010 according to the World Health Organization. This global burden of foodborne disease is unequally distributed. Relative to their population, low- and middle-income countries in South Asia, Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa bear a proportionately high burden. They account for 41% of the global population yet 53% of all foodborne illness and 75% of related deaths.

Unsafe food threatens young children the most; although children under five years of age make up only 9% of the world’s population, they account for almost 40% of foodborne disease and 30% of related deaths.

The new study, Safe food imperative: Accelerating progress in low- and middle-income countries, translates these grim statistics into economic terms to focus government attention on the need for greater investment, better regulatory frameworks, and measures that promote behaviour change.

The total productivity loss associated with foodborne disease in low- and middle-income countries is estimated to cost US$ 95.2 billion per year, and the annual cost of treating foodborne illnesses is estimated at US$ 15 billion.

Other costs, though harder to quantify, include losses of farm and company sales, foregone trade income, the health repercussions of consumer avoidance of perishable yet nutrient-rich foods, and the environmental burden of food waste.

“Food safety receives relatively little policy attention and is under-resourced. Action is normally reactive—to major foodborne disease outbreaks or trade interruptions—rather than preventative,” says Juergen Voegele, a senior director at the World Bank. “By focusing on domestic food safety more deliberately, countries can strengthen the competitiveness of their farmers and food industry and develop their human capital. After all, safe food is essential to fuel a healthy, educated, and resilient workforce.”

The report schematically describes the alignment—or lack of alignment—between food safety risks and the capacity to manage them as countries develop economically and food systems and diets transform. The study finds that the gap is the most pronounced “in the middle of the pack,” that is, among lower-middle income countries, and it offers targeted recommendations to address these.

“Governments in low- and middle-income countries not only need to invest more in food safety but also invest more smartly,” says Steven Jaffee, agriculture economist at the World Bank and lead author of the study. “This means investing in foundational knowledge, human resources, and infrastructure; realizing synergies among investments in food safety, human health, and environmental protection; and using public investment to leverage private investment.”

The study was supported by the United States Food and Drug Administration. It is a collaborative effort involving multiple researchers and practitioners and draws on data and insights from the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, the World Organisation for Animal Health and other partners.

Among the study’s co-authors is Delia Grace, joint leader of the Animal and Human Health program of the International Livestock Research Institute and leader of the food safety flagship of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health.

Hung Nguyen-Viet, regional representative for East and Southeast Asia and senior scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute, conducts food safety research in Vietnam. In this video by the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), he talks about the importance of partnership in this work.

Read more about A4NH’s work in food safety.

Typical milk bar in Kenya

One of Kenya’s many ‘milk bars’ (photo credit: ILRI/Dave Elsworth).

Training of milk vendors in Kenya’s informal dairy sector could be a pathway to progressively bring the informal sector under the food safety regulatory systems, says a new study by scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute and the International Institute for Development and Environment.

The informal dairy sector in Kenya contributes to nutrition security, health and livelihoods. However, concerns over milk safety have seen the sector de-legitimized. Training and capacity-building of those operating in the sector has the potential to deliver on multiple development outcomes, over and above improved food safety.

The study, which is published in Global Food Security (September 2018), examined the incentives and challenges to operating in the informal dairy sector in two urban areas in Kenya (Eldoret and Kisumu) and the perceived benefits and socio-economics effects of training. A survey of informal dairy vendors and testing of milk was also carried out in the two regions to assess milk safety and handling practices and their relation to training.

It was noted that the informal dairy sector in Kenya is an important source of livelihood opportunities, especially for women. Training of milk vendors improved sales, reduced milk losses and helped expand the businesses of vendors; however, the long-term effects of training on milk quality are not evident. Accessibility and clear incentives to participate in training could maximize impact and sustainability.

Based on this qualitative assessment, it is recommended that rigorous scientific studies be conducted to confirm and measure the magnitude of those impacts on health, nutrition and societal outcomes derived from training and capacity building activities in the informal dairy sector.

Access the journal article, Beyond food safety: Socio-economic effects of training informal dairy vendors in Kenya

Citation
Alonso, S., Muunda, E., Ahlberg, S., Blackmore, E. and Grace, D. 2018. Beyond food safety: Socio-economic effects of training informal dairy vendors in Kenya. Global Food Security 18: 86–92.

Panel discussion at the 'Growing with dairy' meeting held at ILRI Nairobi, 9 March 2018

Erastus Kang’ethe (standing) facilitates a panel discussion at the ‘Growing with Dairy’ meeting. The panel members (left to right) are Johanna Lindahl from ILRI, Humphrey Mbugua from the Association of Kenya Feed Manufacturers and Margaret Aleke from the Kenya Bureau of Standards (photo credit: ILRI/Emmanuel Muunda).

Representatives from the dairy sector in Kenya met at the Nairobi campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in March 2018 for a one-day meeting organized to present the research findings and plans of two dairy projects that ILRI is undertaking in collaboration with other partners: Measuring and mitigating the risk of mycotoxins in maize and dairy products for poor consumers in Kenya (MyDairy) and MoreMilk: making the most of milk (MoreMilk).

The meeting, dubbed Growing with Dairy, brought together 33 participants representing different stakeholder groups in Kenya’s dairy sector including industry, government, consumers, academia and development organizations.

Presentations by the principal investigators of the MyDairy and MoreMilk projects discussed various activities and interventions aimed at improving the dairy sector in Kenya and boosting the health and economic benefits that Kenyans derive from the sector.

The meeting also provided an opportunity to disseminate research findings, receive feedback on ongoing and planned activities, and align project objectives with the needs of public and private actors in the dairy sector in Kenya.

The MyDairy project was funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Finland and implemented between 2012 and 2018 in two phases: an initial four-year phase followed by a second phase of 1.5 years. The project aimed at mitigating the risks of aflatoxins in the dairy value chain in Kenya.

The MoreMilk project is a five-year initiative (2016–2021) funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Kingdom government that works to upgrade milk hygiene and quality standards in the informal dairy value chain and maximize economic, health and nutrition benefits, especially for the poorest communities in Nairobi.

Download the Growing with Dairy meeting report

Wet Markets of Hanoi

Pork on sale in a local wet market in Hanoi, Vietnam (photo credit: ILRI/Andrew Nguyen).

“Is my food safe?” This question voices a fundamental consumer concern – regardless of where they live, what their income level is, or where they purchase their food. The demand for information on food safety, meanwhile, grows louder particularly among consumers in low- and middle-income countries as they move towards cities and away from farms, growing more conscious of the quality of food they eat. But that information is rarely readily available, particularly in those countries.

Recognizing the universal nature of this question, the Agriculture, Nutrition and Health (ANH) Academy created a working group to consider current research on food safety, including metrics, tools, and definitions; identify areas of opportunity or need for additional research in this area; and suggest ways to make research on food safety in low- and middle-income countries more robust and replicable.

The results of this effort are reported in a new working paper and related technical brief by the ANH Academy Food Safety Working Group, which we have co-authored with our colleagues. The conceptual framework we developed in the course of undertaking this work identifies three main areas of focus:

  • foodborne hazards and risks that consider private, public, and export standards;
  • food safety system performance, which considers how well the food system delivers safe food; and
  • foodborne disease outcomes, which look at the impact that the safety of foods has in public health and the economy, among others.

With such a wide scope and so many actors, it naturally follows that there is no one measure to comprehensively cover this issue, however, we also recognize the need for stakeholders to be able to measure and report on it to identify areas and means of improvement. An important component of the report offers principles to guide those designing and selecting appropriate food safety measures and metrics.

We recommend, among other things:

  • those undertaking this process begin with a strategic plan that includes food safety goals and steps towards achieving them;
  • the plan looks beyond processes to also consider outcomes and impact;
  • the plan includes multiple measures, accurately reflecting the complex nature of this issue;
  • what is being measured is understood and accepted by all stakeholders; and
  • the benefits of measure-based food safety systems should outweigh the costs of their implementation.

As the working group conducted stakeholder workshops and situational analyses throughout Africa and Asia, we homed in on three key considerations for those looking to delve into the issue of understanding and managing food safety risks. Decision-makers need to understand:

  • the scope of the problem, and its impacts;
  • where concern exists, what it is rooted in, how it affects behaviour and what will allay it; and
  • what is being done in management of the issue, who is and should be involved and what can make it more effective.

To be sure, the report makes clear the intimidating size and scope of the food safety issue in low- and middle-income countries. However, it also lays out a roadmap to tackling this important challenge, one in which researchers and policymakers and the private sector and others can each contribute valuable pieces to the larger pool of knowledge. This collaboration, accompanied by thoughtful planning, can create an environment where people everywhere can rest assured about the safety of the food they eat.

Article by Delia Grace and Silvia Alonso, scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

Originally posted on the ANH Academy website

Citations:
Grace, D., Dominguez-Salas, P., Alonso, S., Fahrion, A., Haesler, B., Heilmann, M., Hoffmann, V., Kang’ethe, E., Roesel, K. and Lore, T. 2018. Food safety metrics relevant to low and middle income countries: Working paper. Agriculture, Nutrition and Health Academy, Food Safety Working Group. London, UK: Innovative Methods and Metrics for Agriculture and Nutrition Actions programme.

Grace, D., Dominguez-Salas, P., Alonso, S., Fahrion, A., Haesler, B., Heilmann, M., Hoffmann, V., Kang’ethe, E., Roesel, K. and Lore, T. 2018. Food safety metrics relevant to low and middle income countries: Technical brief. Agriculture, Nutrition and Health Academy Food Safety Working Group. London, UK: Innovative Methods and Metrics for Agriculture and Nutrition Actions Programme.

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