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ILRI shows burden of food-related illnesses in low-income countries

ILRI shows burden of food-related illnesses in low-income countries

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) works with partners worldwide to improve food and nutritional security and to reduce poverty in developing countries through research on efficient, safe and sustainable use of livestock—ensuring better lives through livestock.

The products generated by ILRI and its partners help people in developing countries enhance their livestock-dependent livelihoods, health and environments. ILRI is a member of the CGIAR Consortium of 15 research centres working for a food-secure future. ILRI has its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, a second principal campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and other offices in Southern and West Africa and South, Southeast and East Asia.

ILRI in its recent report revealed that misguided efforts to control the alarming burden of food-related illnesses in low-income countries risk intensifying malnutrition and poverty—while doing little to improve food safety.

This was made known in a new book released recently by ILRI and partners—Food safety and informal markets: Animal products in sub-Saharan Africa—that questions the knotty world of conventional markets in livestock products.

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Food items sold in Africa and other developing countries are seen as unsafe to consume for fear of dissemination of hazardous pathogens like Salmonella and E. coli to SARS, avian influenza and tuberculosis.

Research by ILRI and partners show that in most developing countries, more than 80 per cent of livestock product purchases occur through informal markets—and in places where there is no ‘formal’ alternative, like a western-style supermarket close at hand.

The research however cautions the urge for higher precautionary measures for edible items in these markets as they insist that sellers in the market must be tutored on their duties as suppliers. ILRI researchers warn that the push for greater food safety standards in these markets must include the understanding that as major players, they must see that their duties as suppliers of food and income to millions of those categorised as the world’s poorest is crucial.

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‘Our work across eight countries found that we are right to be concerned about food safety in informal markets—from milk in Mali, to fish in Ghana, to chicken in Mozambique, to beef in Kenya—particularly for spreading gastrointestinal diseases that are a leading cause of sickness and death in developing countries’, said Delia Grace, program leader for food safety and zoonoses at ILRI. “But it also shows that we are wrong to think that we can just adopt solutions developed in wealthy countries that favour large commercial operations over small producers. That will just exacerbate hunger and further limit money earning options for the poor.”

According to the research, analysing how food moves from farm to fork along Nigerian beef chains led to effective and efficient interventions by identifying where contamination was most likely to occur. In Nigeria, butchers were found to be the hotspot for contamination. But providing training and simple technologies led to an 18 per cent decrease in unsafe meat. This in turn generated savings of US$780 for each butcher trained by reducing costs of illness associated with eating contaminated meat, while the cost of training was just US$9.

Furthermore, the researchers note that the poor consumers in developing countries who suffer the most from food-borne illness are often the same people who survive by selling meat and milk at the local wet market or street stall, or who depend on informal markets to supply affordable, nutritious food for their families.

According to Kristina Roesel, co-coordinator of the Safe Food, Fair Food Project at ILRI, “We need to understand how much disease is caused by unsafe milk and meat in low-income countries and also how much they contribute in terms of nutrition and income”.

Around the world, one billion smallholder farmers rely on livestock for their livelihoods, with sales of milk and meat through informal markets providing much needed income but in sub-Saharan Africa, one out of ten, and possibly more, cases of gastrointestinal or diarrheal diseases are caused by food-borne threats—and these afflictions rank among the top three killers in the region and are a leading cause of death for children under the age of five. Milk, meat, fish and fresh vegetables are common carriers of disease-causing pathogens.

Worthy of note in the research on food safety issues in Africa, the authors say, is that in the developing world, ‘policymakers need to look to the facts, not just the fears, before moving to curtail meat sales at the local wet market or purchases of unpasteurized milk from traditional street vendors’.

Kemi AjumobI with wired reports