Food Safety and Agricultural Medicine

Robert Bhavesh J. Pandya

Key words: safety, threats, hunger, malnutrition

Food safety and security are important public health issues for agriculture and other food production sectors. As the global population continues to grow past 6 billion, food safety, food insecurity, and hunger remain major problems in the world. Hunger and malnutrition are the primary risk to global health, killing more people than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined by claiming 10 million lives each year, 25,000 lives each day, and one life every 5 seconds (1-3).

Sustaining the growing world population with adequate and safe food and water supplies is the major global nutritional and public health priority for the 21st century. To meet this challenge, the 53rd World Health Assembly, the governing body of the World Health Organization (WHO), adopted a resolution in May 2000 calling upon WHO and its member nations to recognize food safety as an essential public health function. In addition, WHO has made food safety one of its top 11 priorities and calls for more systematic and aggressive steps to significantly reduce the risk of microbial foodborne illnesses. This will require major redirections of food microbiology efforts and cooperation on a global scale (2,3).

To decrease the risk of microbial foodborne illnesses, the main methods of increasing food safety use pesticides and chemicals, food irradiation, and combined nonthermal technologies. Newer agricultural methods of genetically modified foods and organic farming have been advanced as ways of increasing global food supply while reducing the use of chemicals and pesticides. Organic farming has been popular over the past decade but may pose some risks for food safety.

Although these technological advances help increase food safety and supply, they may have potential occupational effects on agricultural workers and on the environment. This chapter briefly reviews the history of food safety, discusses the sources of risk for food safety, reviews the main methods currently used for ensuring food safety, and highlights potential occupational consequences of these methods for agricultural workers. Evolving potential threats to food safety from bioterrorism and agroterrorism are also discussed.

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