China Urged to Adopt Holistic Approach on Food Safety

CHINA - China must adopt a holistic approach to addressing food safety challenges connected to the risk of contracting infectious diseases from contact with animals, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
calendar icon 1 July 2011
clock icon 4 minute read

Peter Ben Embarek, food safety officer at WHO's China office, said the country faces risks connected to the need to produce more meat, eggs and milk to feed its growing population, according to an official source in China. He said the increased production will ramp up the risk of people being infected by food-borne diseases because of poor slaughtering oversight and the absence of proper surveillance and inspection systems.

About 50 per cent of pigs in China are slaughtered outside of formal facilities without the inspection of veterinarians or food safety officers. He said poorly trained producers have little or no awareness of food safety or the risk of animal diseases being passed on to humans.

Such an environment could lead to the emergence of a new pandemic of influenza.

During the past 60 years, 30 per cent of the 335 new infectious diseases worldwide were transmitted through food, he said.

Yet in many parts of China, public awareness remains low about such things.

Xu Aixiang, a 35-year-old resident of Rizhao city in Shandong province, prefers to buy live poultry at local markets. Like many of her neighbors, she takes the chickens she buys home to slaughter them.

She said: "I get fresher chickens that are better quality this way. When vendors sell slaughtered chickens, the meat is no longer fresh and may have had water injected into it to make it heavier."

But Mr Ben Embarek cautioned that such live-animal markets are high-risk places for the exchange of viruses and diseases between animals and humans.

He said simple and cost-effective measures can be taken to improve such market's hygiene standards, such as the installation of separate areas to keep live poultry away from customers as well as improving air flow and waste management.

Several UN agencies, including the WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization, called on China to adopt an integrated approach to preventing emerging epidemic diseases and maintaining ecosystem integrity at an event with the theme 'One Health' that convened on 29 June in Beijing.

At the gathering, representatives from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention shared experiences from efforts to mitigate the H5N1 and H1N1 influenza outbreaks in China and said they were committed to working together in the future.

Su Jingliang, an associate professor of preventive veterinary medicine at China Agricultural University, said his lab had detected the outbreak of a new type of flavivirus in ducks that led to a significant fall in egg production at farms in Beijing as well as in Hebei, Jiangxi and Shandong provinces. The pandemic was brought under control in March.

No cases of humans contracting the disease have been reported so far but Dr Su said he was concerned about the possibility of farmers becoming infected through close contact and long exposure to sick ducks.

He said precautionary measures should be taken in cooperation with the Ministry of Health and other government agencies and checks should be run on people who are at high risk, concludes the official report.

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