Food safety & informal markets for animal products

Animal products are vital components in the diets and livelihoods of people across sub-Saharan Africa and especially for pastoralists. The book Food safety and informal markets: animal products in sub-Saharan Africa (2014, 260pp) edited by Kristina Roesel and Delia Grace explores issues of food safety, zoonoses and public health involved in the informal marketing of animal products. It includes several case studies of meat and milk marketing in Eastern Africa. The research, carried out as part of the “Safe Food, Fair Food” project of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), used a novel participatory approach to assessing food safety risk. This approach helped producers, processors and traders of animal products reduce the risk of food-borne diseases for consumers.

The research revealed that men and especially women in informal markets are providing animal products that are nutritious, popular, inexpensive and safer than commonly assumed. The risk of zoonotic disease was often reduced by traditional methods of food handling and preparation, e.g., fermentation of milk reduces the risk of staphylococcal poisoning by 90%.

Policymakers, backed by commercial companies, often promote “modernisation” of production and marketing of animal-source foods. The argument that these foods transmit diseases from animals to humans is used to introduce controls that constrain or prevent small-scale producers from accessing formal markets. The existing food-safety regulations are often ineffective and drive the poor into illegality, where they are less likely to be motivated to improve their processing and marketing activities. Making such activities illegal reduces the chances of authorities to influence them positively. The researchers found that informing traders and encouraging them to invest in good food-handling practices can lead to higher levels of food safety than do fines or bans. They give examples of how participatory research catalysed initiatives by informal market actors to improve food safety and stimulated their interest to receive advice about this.

This highly readable book addresses an important topic for poverty alleviation and equitable agricultural development. It draws attention to the vital role of informal markets for poor people in Africa and reveals misconceptions about such markets. It contributes to a better understanding of the ethical and equity issues involved in food-safety regulation: enforcing strict, top-down food-safety regulations can cause more harm than good, as they hinder poor producers and traders from earning a decent living, hinder poor consumers from accessing nutritious animal-based foods at affordable prices, and hinder efforts to motivate improved food handling to reduce risks of food-borne diseases.

Posted on 2 August 2015 in Pastoralism & Marketing, Pastoralist Livelihoods & Nutrition