Safer food for everyone: How CGIAR brings food safety research to markets where the health burden is highest

[CGIAR] There is no food security without food safety. But every day, billions of people eat without knowing if their food will make them ill – or even kill them. The health burden of foodborne diseases is comparable to that of the ‘Big Three’ infectious diseases (malaria, HIV-AIDS, and tuberculosis), and the great majority of this burden is borne by those who can least afford it: poor people in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) who rely on traditional food systems.

A 2015 study by the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 31 foodborne disease pathogens cause 600 million illnesses and 420,000 deaths globally every year, while another study (which CGIAR partnered) found food hazards and foodborne diseases cost LMICs a combined total of more than USD100 billion each year. But until recently, donor investments in improving food safety in these countries have been too low – and largely spent on problems that little benefit poor people’s health, as shown by CGIAR studies on development projects in Africa.

On this year’s World Food Safety Day, we share key insights from CGIAR’s approach, achievements, and aspirations for increasing food safety in LMICs.

From research to action. CGIAR is the only global agricultural research center targeting hunger, poverty, and natural resources in developing countries. It was founded half a century ago, in response to fears that rapidly growing populations would result in mass famine. CGIAR catalyzed the Green Revolution, saving millions of lives. Currently, nearly half of the land sown with the world’s most-eaten foods is planted with varieties resulting from CGIAR research. However, dramatic changes in food production, a growing population, and the globalization that occurred alongside it as countries became more developed, also served to lengthen and complexify food systems – which in turn boosted rates of foodborne disease.