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Advances in food safety

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As people in low- and middle-income countries gain access to more food choices, and global food systems become increasingly complex, the importance of identifying and mitigating food safety risks grows ever more urgent.  

Infectious food-borne diseases commonly manifested as diarrhea are a leading cause of death in low- and middle-income countries and are strongly associated with stunting and malnutrition in children. The human health burden from food-borne disease is comparable to malaria, HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis, and costs countries more than $100 billion each year. Better management of food-borne disease could save nearly half a million lives each year and safeguard the livelihoods of more than one billion small-scale livestock producers. 

What began decades ago in work to help smallholder dairy farmers in Kenya to ensure their products were safe has grown into a globally recognized, dynamic, and diverse body of research into food safety in low- and middle-income countries. 

Better management of food-borne disease could save nearly half a million lives each year and safeguard the livelihoods of more than one billion small-scale livestock producers

CGIAR researchers at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) have worked on food safety at all levels of the value chain: engaging with stakeholders, improving safety in local markets, strengthening national capacity and policies, and contributing to regional indexes.  

In low- and middle-income countries, regulatory approaches to food safety have proven ineffective and dangerous (focused on inspections and wet market bans) given most fresh products are mainly organized around strong networks of smallholder producers and informal traders. To address this, researchers have taken ILRI’s ‘Participatory Risk Analysis’, the gold standard of risk analysis, and adapted it for informal markets. 

Here, evidence-based approaches are used to identify hazards while building understanding among policymakers and traders. Incentives reward traders to professionalize their work instead of meting out punishments. Traders have access to capacitybuilding opportunities and are offered simple technologies that they can use to improve the safety of the products they handle. They are also shown that improving their business practices can increase their profits.  

Consumers are incentivized, through awareness-raising, to recognize food safety concerns and demand it from traders, who then push this demand down the value chain to suppliers and, eventually, producers. 

 

Header photo: Selling pork at a traditional ‘wet’ market in Hung Yen province, northern Vietnam. Photo by N. Tran/ILRI/HUPH

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