Contaminated food can cause over 200 different diseases, sickening 600 million people and causing over 400,000 deaths every year (WHO, 2015). Using 2016 data, this amounts to US$95 billion in productivity losses a year in low- and middle-income countries (Jaffee et al., 2019). Foodborne diseases (FBD) continue to be a heavy global burden, with children under five years of age disproportionally affected. While patterns vary considerably among countries, several studies have estimated that animal-source foods account for half or more of the burden of FBD (Jaffee et al., 2019).
Bacteria, viruses, parasites, and chemical substances can be passed on to people from unsafe food at any step of the food chain, from production, transport, processing and storage, all the way through to consumption. While safe food can often be taken for granted, it continues to be a growing public health concern worldwide, especially for vulnerable populations (i.e. the very young, old, or immunocompromised). Ensuring healthy, nutritious, safe food are foundational components of healthy, sustainable food systems. Furthermore, foodborne illnesses can harm national economies by straining healthcare systems, impacting trade and tourism, and overall stalling socioeconomic growth.
Microbial pathogens are associated with almost 80 percent of the burden of FBD (Jaffee et al., 2019). Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Escherichia coli are a few of the most globally important foodborne pathogens that can have severe or fatal outcomes. Contaminated foods that contain these pathogens can be of animal origin, for example eggs, poultry, raw milk, or undercooked meat. Thus, the livestock sector has a shared responsibility in ensuring the food it produces is safe. Other hazards that can cause FBD are pathogens such as tapeworms and viruses; chemical hazards such as veterinary drug residues or pesticides; or environmental pollutants such as dioxins (OIE, 2020).
An integrated, multidisciplinary and holistic approach at all stages of animal production is critical to ensure food safety and foster a sustainable food system. A comprehensive strategy for food safety will include ensuring those involved in all stages of the supply chain are aware, and comply with required food safety regulations, standards, and best practices. A key aspect of this approach is risk analysis, which rolls out to prevention, detection, and control measures to identify hazards and prevent them from becoming food safety risks. Enabling efforts at the primary production phase to reduce the burden of animal disease can contribute to reducing the risk of human illness at a later stage. As standards and regulations are strengthened and food safety is ensured on-farm, producers, processers, retailers, and suppliers may be able to access new high-end markets both at local and international level, improving socioeconomic wellbeing, provided food safety is also ensured along every step of the food chain.
Points for Consideration
Given that the contamination of food may occur at any stage in the process from food production to consumption (“farm to fork”), food safety is best assured by an integrated, multidisciplinary approach that considers the entire food chain (OIE, 2020). Therefore, any project involved with production, handling, processing, or distribution of food should consider the following points:
✓ Assess production/processing/transportation/retail processes and harmonize standards and regulations with international standards and best practices
o Codex Alimentarius for food safety and OIE international standards for animal health and zoonoses (Chapter 6.2)
✓ Ensure robust ante-mortem and post-mortem meat inspection systems (OIE, 2004)
✓ Develop capacity building and technical assistance programs targeting smallholders to improve their compliance with food safety regulations.
✓ Develop detection, animal traceability, and tracking systems
✓ Develop rapid response systems to safety risks in food and feed
✓ Develop training/awareness programs and extension services on food safety
✓ Ensure open and transparent access to project information and updates
✓ Establish clear roles and responsibilities across producers, veterinarians, and other stakeholders.
✓ Ensure equitable access to infrastructure that is key in maintaining food safety, i.e. transportation, refrigeration, and processing facilities
✓ Consumer awareness on safe food handling/consumption
Approaches and Tools:
Production, processing, transportation, and retail of animal products entail risks of FBD, given a variety of factors, including faulty production methods. One Health is an integrated approach that considers the links between animal health, environmental health and public health. Under the One Health umbrella the interplay between animal health and food safety is understood from the perspective of preventing public health issues that could stem from food animals and their products. Thus, there are a number of interventions to improve food safety that need to be adopted by different stakeholders at different levels of the production chain. Such interventions include:
At the policy level:
✓ Explore the adoption of disruptive technologies, like blockchain, which enable traceability and tracking of products across the supply chain
✓ Support the establishment of integrated national programs under the One Health umbrella
At the regulatory level:
✓ Risk analysis (risk assessment, risk management and risk communication) according to the OIE Terrestrial Code that details prevention and control measures for various diseases in poultry, cattle, and pig production systems and the standards and guidelines of the Codex Alimentarius Commission
✓ Existence of a traceability system
✓ Laboratory Quality Assurance Systems that help authorities implement monitoring and surveillance through sound food sampling and analysis. The system shall be based on a strong and effective laboratory network for testing pathogens and antibiotics
✓ Existence of a rapid alert and response system to food safety risks in food and feed
At operators’ level, including producers, transport agents, and retailers:
✓ Food safety compliance mechanisms implemented by food operators to manage production in accordance with the food safety regulatory framework
✓ Food safety measures along the cold chain
✓ Control mechanisms to ensure compliance and remove dangerous products, if any, before they reach the market
✓ Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) systems
Variables to Consider
✓ Prevalence and concentration of various pathogens that could safely exist on farm
✓ Feasibility of implementation of tools at the field level, such as testing for critical pathogens across the food chain and appropriate methods of analysis and sampling to ensure regulatory compliance
✓ Early detection and on-site capacity to control such risks (i.e. access to refrigeration, distance to processing facilities, etc.)
✓ Traceability systems for food products, which is a key aspect for minimizing both risks of contamination and consequent economic losses of contamination further along the production process.
✓ The establishment of clear food safety objectives and risk prioritization as a starting point of food safety management systems
✓ Production of educational and communications materials to support behavior change
✓ GAHPs for food safety for primary production stages
Compliance with food safety standards and best practices offer many benefits. However, to do that, regulations have to be risk-based and implementation must consider the capacity of farmers to comply with the regulatory framework. The inability to do so will result in major economic losses, particularly for small and medium-sized farmers, who may not have the financial means to upgrade facilities. Thus, implementation of stricter food safety standards and best practices should be coupled with investments in extension services, technological programs and capacity building targeted at farmers to ensure compliance. Projects should focus on the desired level of protection and consider, whenever feasible, traditional practices that accomplish the same level of protection as the official regulatory framework but do so in a more culturally and environmentally-friendly manner.
Adoption of stricter standards should be accompanied by other measures to monitor and prevent inappropriate practices regarding animal welfare, as per Principle 3, and in the use of chemicals or medicines that could increase pollution or antimicrobial resistance, as per Principle 5, such as education and awareness of how to comply while minimizing negative consequences elsewhere.