Food security in times of a pandemic

Published on
April 6, 2021

In places where wild animals, domestic animals and humans converge, smart management of the interface is needed. Destruction or disruption of the wild animals natural habitat must be reduced and the environmental health for animals and humans must be improved. Only thus will we be able to mitigate the impact of future epidemics on our food supply and health, say scientists Bron, Siebenga and Fresco of Wageningen University & Research in a brief.

In the spring of 2020, some shelves in the supermarkets in the Netherlands were suddenly empty. In many countries with less food security, hunger increased. Infectious diseases caused by pathogens (viruses or bacteria) that transfer from wild to domestic animals or from animals to humans can impact our health, but also our food system.

No exceptions

With the increasing mobility of people, animals and food products and with accelerated land clearing and changing land use, pathogens spread over greater distances more easily. Potential pandemic zoonoses are no longer an exception and only a short plane ride away. Previously, we saw the emergence of SARS, but it is not just pandemic coronaviruses: while COVID-19 shows its impact every day, the Netherlands is still dealing with the consequences of Q-fever. Moreover, there are currently no free-range eggs available because chickens are kept indoors because of avian influenza.

Healthy animals, healthy plants and a healthy environment are needed to sustain healthy people. A One Health approach at a global and regional level is essential if resilient and sustainable agri-food systems are to be created. Within this approach, experts in the domains of public health, animal health and environmental health collaborate interdisciplinarily. 'The goal is to not only highlight but also integrate the coherence between the health of the environment, wild and domestic animals, plants and humans', says researcher Bieneke Bron.

United Nations Food Systems Summit

To safeguard food systems from future disease outbreaks and to prevent outbreaks that affect our food systems, Bron and her colleagues Joukje Siebenga and Louise Fresco formulate three recommendations in their brief: Smart management for those areas where wild and domestic animals converge; continuous surveillance within the food chain, including monitoring and preventing new pathogens from emerging; and improved conservation of the natural habitat of wild animals and improved health for both the environment and the animals and humans that live there.

The scientists formulated these recommendations in preparation for the United Nations Food Systems Summit, which is planned for September 2021. During the summit, governments, civic organisations, the business sector and knowledge institutes will discuss proposals to improve food production and consumption and make it more sustainable.​