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Safer Food Relies on Healthy Animals

When we do our weekly shop at the supermarket, we trust that the food neatly stacked on shelves is safe for consumption. 

But, outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, such as E. coli, can still occur and we must work to prevent it wherever possible. This is particularly true in developing regions where limited infrastructure means risks can be higher.

The challenge of food safety has become so important that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is preparing for its first World Food Safety Day on June 7, 2019. Supported by the World Health Organization, the day aims to highlight how achieving safer food could help to provide a sustainable future in developing countries through better nutrition, food security and human health. 

Here, we take a look at how the animal health sector helps to safeguard food throughout the whole supply chain.  

Regular veterinary visits

Safe food starts with healthy animals on the farm. We rely on veterinarians and farmers to care for livestock and rear healthy and happy animals that produce a healthy product.

Regular veterinary visits to prevent livestock falling ill and to treat sick animals with effective medicines are essential to delivering safe food.  Veterinarians must work with farmers onsite to contain disease outbreaks, practise good health protocols and responsible drug use. 

Prioritising good welfare

Good animal husbandry is also essential for food safety across multiple levels of food production. Increasingly, veterinarians are monitoring animal welfare at each step, particularly in livestock transportation. Ultimately, if welfare is improved, an animal’s natural immunity increases making them less susceptible to disease. 

For example, the FAO has undertaken a recent project in China to promote good welfare practices, specifically to target better food safety. By promoting better living conditions, lower density groups and slaughtering of animals in a more humane way, this can improve disease control in the country.

Adhere to rules around residues 

When animals get sick, they need medication to recover. 

Before a treated animal or it’s produce (i.e. milk, meat or eggs) can enter the food supply chain, producers are required to wait until the medicine has been sufficiently processed. This time period – known as the ‘withdrawal period’ – keeps any potentially harmful residues out of our food supply. 

Veterinarians and other trained professionals closely monitor animals to ensure the withdrawal period is respected. Authorities will also randomly test products coming from the farm to ensure compliance.

Withdrawal periods mean animals can be treated for illness and so, farmers can provide safer food with a lower risk of foodborne illness.

The food safety challenge will continue

Every year, there are almost 600 million cases of foodborne illnesses worldwide, and this appears to be growing.  

Factors pushing incidences up include; an increasing demand for world foods, leading to a longer food supply chain across countries and greater risk of contamination; more people travelling further afield where they may not be used to certain foods, and people consuming food prepared outside the home.3 Plus, people more susceptible to falling sick, such as the elderly, or those who are immunosuppressed, are growing in many parts of the world, which also affects figures.  

It’s also important to remember that we, the consumers, are the final protection against illness. Storing food responsibly, cooking it properly, and washing our hands are just a few ways we can prevent foodborne illness ourselves. 

That’s why all of us, not just those of us working in veterinary and animal health industries, but as consumers, can do our bit to improve food safety.