Health


Women threshing sorghum in Angonia province, Mozambique (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

There are too many issues with using lactic acid bacteria for aflatoxin binding for the practice to be safely promoted, according to a newly published review. The review adds that using aflatoxin binders in human food might even worsen food safety in the longer term.

“Use of binding agents in foods contradicts all the existing principles and regulations set to ensure food safety. If such a method is promoted, the efforts to combat the aflatoxin problem at farm level and throughout the value chain, to eliminate and reduce the contaminants, could be compromised,” the study says.

Aflatoxins continue to be a food safety problem globally, especially in developing regions. A significant amount of effort and resources have been invested to control aflatoxins. However, these efforts have not substantially decreased the prevalence nor the dietary exposure to aflatoxins in developing countries. 

One approach to aflatoxin control is the use of binding agents in foods, and lactic acid bacteria have been studied extensively for this purpose. However, when assessing the results comprehensively and reviewing the practicality and ethics of use, risks are evident and concerns arise. 

The study notes that aflatoxin binding research has approached the issue from a one-component ‘silver bullet’ solution instead of focusing on a comprehensive approach to aflatoxin control that considers good agricultural practices at the farm level and good manufacturing practices during production. 

Promoting increased diversity of diets, particularly of staple crops, may contribute towards reduced exposure to aflatoxins. Additionally, the role of food safety authorities needs to be strengthened to safeguard food quality in both formal and informal markets.

Citation

Ahlberg, S., Randolph, D., Okoth, S. and Lindahl, J. 2019. Aflatoxin binders in foods for human consumption—Can this be promoted safely and ethically? Toxins 11(7): 410.

Taking sheep for disease testing in Bako, Ethiopia
Taking sheep for disease testing in Bako, Ethiopia (photo credit: ILRI/Barbara Wieland).

World Zoonoses Day is marked annually on 6 July to commemorate the day in 1885 when Louis Pasteur successfully administered the first vaccine against a zoonotic disease when he treated a young boy who had been mauled by a rabid dog. The day is also an opportunity to raise awareness of the risk of zoonoses, infectious diseases that are spread between animals and people. 

Scientists estimate that 60% of known infectious diseases in people and 75% of new or emerging infectious diseases in people are transmitted from animals. Neglected zoonoses associated with livestock, such as brucellosis and cysticercosis, impose a huge health burden on poor people and reduce the value of their livestock assets.

Through its Animal and Human Health program, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) carries out research with national and international partners towards improving the control of zoonotic diseases through a range of tools and approaches such as risk mapping and risk targeting, modelling of zoonotic pandemics, decision-support tools and advice on vaccination strategies. The program also generates evidence for policymakers on the cost and impact of zoonoses and the benefits of their prevention.

Some of our collaborative research on zoonoses includes work on developing optimal vaccination strategies for Rift Valley fever in East Africa, studying the epidemiology, ecology and socio-economics of disease emergence in Nairobi and developing an effective surveillance program for zoonoses in livestock in Kenya.

For an in-depth look, listed below are some of our research publications on zoonoses:

For more information on ILRI’s research on zoonoses, contact Bernard Bett, senior scientist at ILRI (b.bett@cgiar.org) or Eric Fèvre, professor of veterinary infectious diseases, Institute of Infection and Global Health, University of Liverpool on joint appointment at ILRI (eric.fevre@liverpool.ac.uk).

Researchers entering sampling data (photo credit: Zoonoses and Emerging Diseases).

In the cities of developing nations, where unregulated antibiotic use is common and livestock jostle with people amid often unsanitary conditions, scientists have found a potentially troubling vector for the dissemination of antimicrobial resistant bacteria: wildlife.

The epidemiological study published in the June 2019 issue of the journal Lancet Planetary Health shows that urban wildlife in Nairobi carry a high burden of clinically relevant antimicrobial resistant bacteria. The research team included scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the University of Liverpool and the Kenya Medical Research Institute, among other research institutions.

Antimicrobial resistance is an increasingly serious threat to public health. Through misuse and overuse of antibacterial medication, more and more of the bacterial diseases that were once easily treated with antibiotics have become drug-resistant; these new strains of old germs require expensive and prolonged treatment at best and at worst can be lethal.

The study deployed teams of veterinary, medical, environmental and wildlife personnel to sample 99 households randomly chosen from Nairobi’s socio-economically diverse neighbourhoods.

The study found higher diversity of antimicrobial resistance in livestock and the environment than humans and wildlife. Rodents and birds were significantly more likely to carry resistance to multiple drugs when exposed to human and livestock waste through poor management practices, a common feature of lower-income neighbourhoods.

“This paper shows that contamination of urban environments with antimicrobial resistance is a serious issue. This is not just specific to Nairobi but findings can be extrapolated to other cities in Africa,” said Eric Fèvre, a joint appointed scientist at ILRI and professor of veterinary infectious diseases at the University of Liverpool.

“We tend to think of antimicrobial resistance in primarily medical terms, of developing new drugs and better using old ones. But we need to take an ecological approach to addressing this threat. Urban cities can address this by better urban planning, better waste disposal, better livestock husbandry practices. This can go far toward disrupting antimicrobial resistance exchange between wildlife, livestock and humans,” said Fèvre.

The lead author of the study, James Hassell, said, “Although we found no evidence to suggest that antimicrobial resistance carried by urban wildlife poses a direct threat to human health, that these animals harbour high levels of resistance to drugs used in human and animal medicine is particularly worrisome. Since wildlife are not treated with antibiotics, this is indicative of how pervasive antimicrobial resistance is in urban environments. Species that move freely across cities and further afield could disseminate resistance acquired in urban areas more widely.”

“We cannot address the rise of antimicrobial resistance without focusing on the environmental, ecological and social settings in which humans exist,” said Hassell.

Citation

Hassell, J.M., Ward, M.J., Muloi, D., Bettridge, J.M., Robinson, T.P., Kariuki, S., Ogendo, A., Kiiru, J., Imboma, T., Kang’ethe, E.K., Öghren, E.M., Williams, N.J., Begon, M., Woolhouse, M.E.J. and Fèvre, E.M. 2019. Clinically relevant antimicrobial resistance at the wildlife–livestock–human interface in Nairobi: An epidemiological study. Lancet Planetary Health 3(6): e259–e269.

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).

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).


Farmer herds his three bulls in Nikhekhu Village, Dimapur, Nagaland, India (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

Rapid urbanization in India has led to expansion of peri-urban fringes, where intensive, industry-style livestock rearing has led to emerging vulnerabilities at the human-animal-environment interface.

To better understand the health system and farm-level factors that influence the risk of transmission of bovine tuberculosis in animals and humans, a qualitative study was undertaken among smallholder dairy farms in peri-urban zones in three cities in India: Guwahati, Ludhiana and Bangalore. Data were collected through literature reviews, expert consultations and in-depth interviews.

The study, published in BMC Public Health (March 2019), found that farmers consulted veterinarians as a last resort after home remedies and quacks had failed. Damage control measures, especially with respect to selling or abandoning sick animals, added to the risk of disease transmission.

Although civic authorities believed in the adequacy of a functioning laboratory network, end users were aggrieved at the lack of services. Despite the presence of extension services, knowledge and awareness were limited, promoting risky behaviour.

In addition, the absence of policies on the management of bovine tuberculosis may have influenced stakeholders not to consider it to be a major animal and public health concern.

“Evidence is needed not only about the burden and risks, but also on possible options for control applied in the local Indian setting,” the authors say.

The study also recommends that the identified gaps in knowledge be addressed through collaborative research and One Health interventions involving both animal and human health sectors.

Access the article Community, system and policy level drivers of bovine tuberculosis in smallholder periurban dairy farms in India: A qualitative enquiry by A.S. Chauhan and others.

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