Food systems must be transformed urgently to improve food safety and health, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

WHO said multiple problems are negatively affecting health including zoonotic pathogens that spread between animals and humans.

The current system is “failing” with foodborne diseases widespread, and unhealthy diets and malnutrition among the main causes of disease, according to the international agency.

Food systems impact health through poor diets and food insecurity, animal-human disease transmission, increased antimicrobial resistance, unsafe and adulterated foods, environmental contamination, and occupational hazards.

Improve control and surveillance
WHO officials said the sector is vulnerable to climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the war in Ukraine affecting access to, and prices of, food globally and the incidence of foodborne infections.

“Increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and greater frequency of some extreme events affect crop and animal yields and the geographic distribution and persistence of foodborne pathogens, parasites and contaminants,” according to an official statement.

Land use change, wildlife hunting, and trade is a major cause of biodiversity loss and is driving the transmission of pathogens from animals to humans.

Estimates published in 2015 found 600 million people fall ill every year after consuming contaminated food, and 420,000 die including 125,000 children younger than the age of 5. Updated figures are expected by 2025.

In late 2022, WHO launched its food safety strategy for 2022 to 2030 to reduce foodborne diseases. The plan sets a target on the burden of foodborne illness with a 40 percent reduction by 2030.

WHO recommended that governments create regulatory and policy frameworks to support the production and consumption of, and access to, healthier and safer diets. One element is strengthening national food control systems and surveillance to prevent and improve responses to foodborne diseases.

“All stakeholders, including governments, industry, consumers and civil society, must act simultaneously through different entry points of the food system to ensure a systemic response to risks posed to food safety and quality,” according to WHO officials.

Neglected tropical disease update
Meanwhile, WHO has published a progress report on neglected tropical diseases.

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a group of 20 conditions caused by a variety of pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi, and toxins. They include Chagas disease, echinococcosis, foodborne trematodes, and taeniasis and cysticercosis. Foodborne trematodes include the parasites Clonorchis, Opisthorchis, Taenia solium, Fasciola, and Paragonimus. 

The report shows the number of people requiring NTD interventions fell by 80 million between 2020 and 2021. The burden of foodborne trematodes, measured in disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), has decreased from 2015 to 2019.

Cambodia completed nationwide mapping of foodborne trematodes, while human taeniasis work is ongoing. The Lao People’s Democratic Republic and the Philippines also progressed by looking at taeniases and cysticercosis in people.

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