Food Safety


CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health 2018 annual report cover

The CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) has published its 2018 annual report, highlighting program activities and research results from across A4NH’s five research flagships and five focus countries. These include:

  • research into consumer choices, motives and barriers through the lens of vegetable consumption in urban Nigeria;
  • building the evidence base with newly-published research that shows biofortified high-iron pearl millet can significantly improve nutrition and cognitive performance;
  • significant research contributions to help policymakers and consumers understand food safety issues and risks;
  • how agriculture and nutrition interventions delivered through community-based childcare centres can impact nutrient intake, dietary diversity and nutritional status;
  • improving hospital diagnostics for human brucellosis; and
  • an exploration of gender research projects being conducted under A4NH.
Food market near Khulungira Village, in central Malawi (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).
Food market near Khulungira Village, in central Malawi (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

Today marks the first ever World Food Safety Day following the adoption in December 2018 of a resolution by the United Nations General Assembly to set aside 7 June of every year to celebrate the benefits of safe food and inspire action towards preventing and managing foodborne diseases.

In Asia and Africa, most livestock products and fresh produce are sold in informal markets. The human health burden from foodborne disease is comparable to that of malaria, HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis. Unsafe food is also a barrier to market access for poor farmers.

Food safety is a key part of the research portfolio of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). ILRI leads the food safety flagship of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH). This flagship seeks food safety solutions that can work in informal markets; it focuses primarily on mitigating aflatoxin contamination in key staples and on managing risks in informal markets for nutrient-rich perishables like meat, milk, fish and vegetables.

Our approach to food safety research is based on risk analysis. We identify the hazards in food and build the capacity of policymakers to understand risk-based approaches; policy will be more effective and efficient if based on actual risk to human health rather than the presence of hazards. We generate evidence and develop solutions to improve the safety of animal products in informal food markets.

Better management of foodborne diseases could save nearly half a million lives a year and safeguard the livelihoods of over one billion small-scale livestock producers. Indeed, there is no food security without food safety.

Some of the collaborative food safety projects that ILRI has led in the past include work on mitigating the risk of mycotoxins in the feed–dairy value chain in Kenya, improving food safety in smallholder pig value chains in Vietnam and food safety risk assessment and piloting of food safety interventions in eight countries in Africa.

Our current food safety projects seek to test market-based approaches to improve food safety in Cambodia, Vietnam, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia.  

Listed below are some recent publications on food safety by ILRI and partners.

For more information on ILRI’s food safety research, contact the A4NH food safety flagship leader Delia Grace Randolph (d.randolph@cgiar.org).

Goat in a market in Nigeria (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).
Goat in a market in Nigeria (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

Foodborne disease is a major public health problem in poor countries, but we lack effective, sustainable and scalable approaches that work in the traditional, informal markets where most fresh, risky food is sold.

A promising intervention is working with informal sector vendors to provide training and technologies, an enabling environment, and motivation for behaviour change.

A case study published in the March 2019 issue of the journal Infection Ecology & Epidemiology presents a long-term follow-up of a pilot project to improve food safety in Bodija abattoir and meat market, one of the largest markets in Nigeria.

An evaluation shortly after implementation found the intervention was acceptable, cost-effective and resulted in safer meat. The follow-up nine years later used qualitative surveys and microbiological tests.

The policy environment had become disabling, partly because of attempts by the authorities to move butchers to a modern, hygienic but more distant abattoir; this was resisted by the butchers.

Authorities revoked the licence for Bodija market and stopped providing services. Matters escalated and forceful attempts to remove butchers resulted in deaths followed by riots. Meat safety deteriorated.

The case study shows the importance of an enabling environment and need for stakeholder collaboration in attempting to improve food safety in the traditional sector.

Access the article, Improving food safety in the informal sector: nine years later by Delia Grace, Morenike Dipeolu and Silvia Alonso.

Makara market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Makara market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (photo credit: ILRI/Hardisman Dasman).

The safety of food is a global concern and it is widely acknowledged that there can be no food security without food safety. Indeed, food safety is closely linked to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

A technical brief titled Food safety and the Sustainable Development Goals sets out the linkages between food safety and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), identifies priority issues and suggests how investments in food safety can help attain the SDGs. The focus is on low- and middle-income countries whose development needs are most urgent and where the burden of foodborne disease is highest.

The brief discusses both the likely role of food safety in contributing to or retarding progress to meet the SDGs as well as the interventions or responses that can maximise benefits and reduce risks. It draws attention to unintended consequences of food safety interventions, which, while attempting to improve public health, may jeopardise other objectives such as improving nutrition or gender equity.

Access the brief, Food safety and the Sustainable Development Goals by Delia Grace, joint leader of the Animal and Human Health program at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

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.

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