Thursday, January 07, 2010

A New WHO Report On Foodborne Disease Is An Argument In Favor of Local Food Sourcing

Report from WHO cites the ability of foodborne disease outbreaks to cross international borders as major risk factor for global destabilization
The White House and USDA have been highlighting the value of locally grown foods, and now the benefits of local food sourcing are the subtle message of a new report on foodborne disease outbreaks from the World Health Organization. The report will be delivered at the group's executive meeting later this month (read a good recap here), and cites food- and water-borne disease as a growing threat for both national and global security, due to the fact that the world's food supply chain is an interconnected web, and foods and food animals--as well as the diseases they carry--cross borders on an hourly basis.

The WHO report focuses on the fact that many deadly foodborne disease outbreaks can no longer be effectively reduced or controlled by available medical interventions, and also focuses on zoonotic diseases, those that are transmitted from food animals to humans. Think MRSA, antibiotic resistant staph, which has been found to be transmitted to humans through contact with pigs being raised as food, or H1N1/Swine flu, which also seems to have originated in food animals, depending on whom you believe.

Climate change makes foodborne diseases stronger, more deadly
The report also points out that food- and water-borne diseases have the potential to become even more dangerous and widespread, due to climate change. As the planet gets warmer, the report contends, there will be much faster growth of micro organisms, resulting in far higher levels of toxins or pathogens carried in food and water--and thus a building potential to kill millions of people far faster and far more efficiently. When millions of citizens are sickened, and hospitals are incapable of dealing with mass illness and death, societies destabilize, citizens start to riot, and governments are ripe for overthrow. That's the global security angle. Food security and a safe food supply are both critical parts of international security.

The World Health Organization is coming up with all kinds of strategies to deal with foodborne diseases in the global theatre, including the International Food Safety Authorities Network and the Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group.

But really, there's an easy, old fashioned solution that removes citizens from the dangers of an internationally contaminated food supply and the risk of catching a foodborne disease from somewhere on the other side of the globe. And it also increases food security and dramatically reduces the risks of government overthrow (wink wink wink): Eat only what is grown or raised near you, and grow your own food, too. And sure, that overlooks America's vast economic dependence on international trade of food stuffs, but while our government agencies are still in the process of creating a safe international food supply--it's the only thing that makes sense for those who want to eat safely. Figuring out international food safety will take years; we haven't even figured out domestic food safety in America, as the CDC statistics of 5,000 annual deaths and 76 million illnesses illustrate. We haven't had an Under Secretary for Food Safety at USDA for one year and twenty days as of this writing. And FDA, at the moment, without a Senate bill that boosts its powers, still remains hamstrung in its efforts to adequately monitor the nation's food safety.

USDA has a vast interest in the global food trade, as does the rest of the Obama administration, but at the same time, USDA has thrown support behind local foods, in particular with the September launch of the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program. The White House recently used the entertainment platform of Iron Chef America to get the message out about the values of local and sustainable sourcing, and the focus there was on healthier eating. But the message becomes far more critical, though, when you're not talking about trimming waistlines, but potentially dying from consuming pathogen-laden food that's coming in from another country, or even from a par of America that';s far from where you call your home. From that perspective, Iron Chef America was a critical instruction manual for our national food security and safety, glimmery, nouveau veg recipes and all.