The World Health Organization (WHO) has appointed an American scientist, Felicia Wu,  to its Foodborne Disease Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG).

Wu, Ph.D, is a John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor in the Michigan State University (MSU) departments of Food Science and Human Nutrition and Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics

Felicia Wu, John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor in the MSU departments of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and Agriculture, Food and Resource Economics.

FERG is a selective group of food safety and public health researchers working to determine the human burden of disease caused by common food contaminants worldwide, as well as update data on the global impact of foodborne disease. This highly selective group includes just 26 researchers from around the world.

 “I feel really honored to have been chosen to be part of this group of amazing researchers working to address foodborne disease on a global scale,” Wu said.

Wu previously worked as a resource adviser for WHO FERG from 2007-2015, which was commissioned to estimate global foodborne disease caused by arsenic.

Wu’s main area of expertise is aflatoxin, which may be revisited in this reiteration of FERG.

“Previously, when I had done the work, there was only sufficient information on liver cancer caused by aflatoxin, but now we know that it has been linked to growth impairment in children and that it’s immunotoxic, so there are other important effects that didn’t get taken into account in the first FERG’s report,” she said.

Foodborne disease is especially prevalent in developing countries, where there is frequently less enforcement of food safety regulations to reduce food poisoning risks.

Wu sees aflatoxin as a good example. “Aflatoxin-related liver cancer is much higher in many Asian, Central American and African countries,” she said.

“Aflatoxin is primarily a warm climate problem and it’s especially in corn and peanuts,” she said. “We have some problems in the U.S., but by and large, our FDA regulates aflatoxin really well in our peanut butter, corn products, and other goods. In other parts of the world, the nation may set an aflatoxin standard, but it’s not being enforced if the corn and peanuts are being produced at the household level, and families eat what they grow. “

“What gets measured, gets managed. If there’s not enough urgency to make sure that the food supply is safe, then markets and individual sellers might not be as careful in how they’re storing their food, how they’re transporting their food, etc.,” she said. “But, if we can say ‘a foodborne illness causes this many cases of disease and, and this many infant and child mortalities every year,’ then, suddenly that lends a lot more urgency, and then policies are put into place and enforced to improve food safety globally.”

List of other 2021-2024 FERG Members

  • Mohammed Al Huthiel — Risk Assessment Expert, Food Sector, Saudi Food & Drug Authority, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
  • Fadi Al Natour — Agri-Food Risk assessment specialist, Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority, United Arab Emirates
  • Li Bai — Deputy Director, Division I of Risk Assessment, China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment, China
  • Beau B. Bruce — Deputy Branch Chief, Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United States of America
  • Brecht Devleesschauwer — Senior epidemiologist, Sciensano (Belgian institute for health), Belgium
  • Sithar Dorjee — Director, Planning, HR and International Relations, Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan, Bhutan
  • Teresa Estrada-Garcia — Researcher and lecturer at the Biomedicine Department of the Center for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute (CINVESTAV-IPN) Mexico City, Mexico
  • Luria Leslie Founou — Co-Founder, Deputy CEO and Head of Research, Centre of Expertise and Biological Diagnostic of Cameroon (CEDBCAM), Cameroon
  • Tesfaye Gobena — Associate Professor of Public Health in College of Health and Medical Science of Haramaya University, Ethiopia
  • Sandra Hoffmann — Senior Economist, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, United States of America
  • Lea Sletting Jakobsen — Researcher, National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, Denmark
  • Karen Keddy — Self-Employed consultant in infectious diseases, medical microbiology and public health, South Africa
  • Martyn Kirk — Professor, Epidemiology/NHMRC Career Development Fellow, National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University, Australia
  • Mirjam Kretzschmar — Professor, Dynamics of Infectious Diseases, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht University, the Netherlands; National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Netherlands
  • Kunihiro Kubota — Section Chief, Division of Food Safety Information, National Institute of Health Sciences, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Japan
  • Ashok Kumar — Assistant Director General (Animal Health), Indian Council of Agricultural Research, India
  • Rob Lake — Manager, Risk Assessment and Social Systems Group, Institute of Environmental Science and Research, New Zealand
  • Shannon Majowicz — Associate Professor, School of Public Health Sciences, University of Waterloo, Canada
  • Lapo Mughini-Gras — Senior epidemiologist and Associate professor, Centre for Infectious Disease Control (CIb), National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), the Netherlands Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences (IRAS), Utrecht University, Netherlands
  • Sara Monteiro Pires — Senior scientist, National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, Denmark
  • Tety Rachmawati — Researcher, Center of Research and Development for Humanities and Health Management, Indonesia
  • Lucy J Robertson — Professor and Head Parasitology Lab, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Norway
  • Elaine Scallan Walter — Associate Professor, Department of Epidemiology Colorado School of Public Health, United States of America
  • Banchob Sripa — Professor & Director, Tropical Disease Research Center, Faculty of Medicine, Khon Kaen University, Thailand
  • Paul Torgerson — Professor, Veterinary Epidemiology (Lehrstuhl), University of Zürich, Switzerland

Biographies for all of the members can be found here.

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