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Cornell University

Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition

Pandemics and food systems – towards a proactive food safety approach to disease prevention & management


Recent large-scale pandemics such as the covid19, H1N1, Swine flu, Ebola and the Nipah virus, which impacted human health and livelihoods, have come about due to inadequate food systems safeguards to detect, trace and eliminate threats arising from zoonotic diseases. Such diseases are transmitted to humans through their interaction with animals in the food value chain including through the consumption of bush meat. Climate change has also facilitated the emergence of new zoonotic diseases. The lack of adequately enforced food-safety standards in managed agricultural production systems creates the necessary conditions for diseases to mutate into highly contagious strains. The lack of food safety measures in handling, packaging and sales of food increases risks of cross-species contamination. Finally, increasing anti-microbial resistance, combined with rapid urbanization and global interconnectedness allows diseases to spread rapidly among humans. Thus, part of the reconstruction efforts, post covid19, should include prioritizing proactive investments in food safety. The key to stave off another such pandemic lies in integrating one-health knowledge on zoonotic diseases along with food safety measures along the food value chain. Refocusing policy priorities from disease control to prevention will improve international coordination efforts in pandemic prevention. Implementing such proactive actions will cost a very small fraction of the reconstruction budgets. However, the expected benefits of the food-safety approach will include preventing global economic losses due to pandemics.

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