According to a report released by the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) this week, climate change may exacerbate a wide variety of global food safety issues, ranging from seafood safety to antibiotic resistance.
The report bases its analysis on the most recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which found climate change to be an unequivocal reality.
“Projections for the 21st century show that global warming will accelerate,” said the FAO report, which lists stronger storm systems, extreme precipitation and dry spells, and rising sea levels as the primary symptoms of climate change.
FAO researchers believe these changes will have widespread implications for food production, food security, and food safety.
According to the report, climate change could drastically impact seafood safety by increasing the frequency of toxic algal blooms, promoting the growth of deadly Vibrio vulnificus and facilitating the methylation of mercury, all of which present hazards to human health.
Data collected by the FAO also indicate that spikes in temperature and humidity increase the prevalence of common foodborne diseases like Salmonella and Campylobacter and pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella are likely to become more virulent.
Though more research is needed to better understand the microbiological implications of climate change, environmental changes are thought to impact horizontal gene transfer, an important contributor to the increase in antibiotic resistance.
According to the report, climate change likely also affects zoonoses, diseases that are naturally transmitted between animals and humans, by increasing the transmission cycle of vectors like mosquitoes and flies.
The list of food issues affected by climate change is discussed ad nauseam in the the 40-page report.
The report also emphasizes the need for policymakers and other stakeholders in the food system to prepare for emerging food safety risks linked to climate change.
“Assuring food safety is a complex task. Food safety hazards can arise at any stage of the food chain from primary production through consumption. Assuring food safety therefore entails the active involvement from a number of stakeholders,” said the report.
“Climate change is not only an environmental or ecological problem, as its impacts affect human health, development, and economic growth,” said Kara Reeve, sustainability planner for the District of Columbia. “Local, state, and national governments need to plan accordingly to prepare for and mitigate the effects of climate change.”
Researchers hope the findings will raise awareness and facilitate international cooperation by better understanding the changing food safety landscape and help policymakers develop and implement effective strategies to combat the ill effects.