Health experts hold key to food safety

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Animal welfare Agriculture Nutrition

Better communication between animal welfare and public health
experts is vital if Europe's food safety is to be improved.

Vets and doctors must join together to examine the case for radical reform of current food policy, according to researchers in this week's British Medical Journal.

Caroline Hewson and Tim Lang argue that cheap food, particularly meat, is linked to reduced human health and reduced farm animal welfare, both of which are important matters of public interest.

In addition, the 20th century's drive to lower food prices has resulted in many hidden costs for consumers, animals, and society.

"In the last 20 years, problems have emerged where problems from one sector have spilled over into another,"​ Lang told

"So this letter is basically a plea for discourse. We've known for a long time that problems in one sector - animal welfare - can create problems in another.

"Literature shows there is not enough discourse between all the parties, and this is long overdue."

The emergence of BSE, foot-and-mouth disease, and now bird flu have all been partially blamed to some extent on modern farming methods. Salmonella and E. coli outbreaks - most recently in South Wales - are also still prevalent, often with tragic consequences.

Last year Eurosurvelliance, the EU's cross-border warning network, recorded 691 alerts about bad foods - a 52 per cent jump in the number of alerts over the previous year. Alerts record incidents of contaminated food or feed that may have crossing into other members' borders.

As a result, Hewson and Lang claim that doctors and vets have an important opportunity to guide the public about these costs and to encourage the relevant policymakers to make changes.

Historically, a good public health case existed for reducing the price of foods, and vets have helped deliver that policy. Today, vets help farmers control the diseases and other welfare concerns that intensive farming inadvertently promotes.

Doctors, in turn, deal both with farmers' health, as they struggle to remain in business, and with the public's health, damaged by the modern diet.

There is also considerable cultural pressure to rethink food policy. Many customers now tend to associate good human health with good animal welfare, and the health professions are being asked to encourage a dramatic shift in national diets.

The scientists therefore conclude that the time is right for joint veterinary and medical debate about food policy, and even a shared position.

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