A Nexus between Animal Food Safety and One Health

Consumers not being aware of what they are consuming is a thing of the past. Nowadays people have become very wise and alert and thus they are well aware that the food they are consuming should comply with the quality standards and should be safe to eat. Food safety is one such scientific discipline that deals with handling, preparation, and storage of food in ways to assure a healthy diet reaching consumers and preventing the incidence of foodborne illnesses. With the recent COVID 19 pandemic, certain words like zoonoses, one health, etc., became very popular among the general population. One Health as per Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) can be defined as a collaborative, multisectoral, and trans-disciplinary approach- working at local, regional, national, and global levels- to achieve optimal health and well-being outcomes recognizing the interconnections between people, animals, plants and their shared environment. In simpler terms, One Health can be understood as the interdependence between human, animal, and environmental health and thus advocates the requirement for a comprehensive approach towards various health and environmental problems instead of a fragmentary approach.

The global population has now exceeded the 7 billion mark, and an estimated 30 billion food animals are required to help feed this population. The dependence of the human population on animals for food results in a complex global food system which demands that scientists, researchers, and other experts move beyond the boundaries of their own disciplines and adopt cross-sectoral collaboration between the animal health, the food authorities, and the human health sector.

The human and the animal microbial flora are always in contact with each other through food and feed, direct contact, and via the environment. These routes serve as the way via which zoonotic diseases from (food-) animals may enter humans. The diseases getting transmitted from food animals to humans can be separated into three groups. In the first group are diseases like SARS and zoonotic influenza (avian flu—H5N1 and swine flu—H1N1), with a potential for global spread and which alerted the world to the need for a One Health approach. The second group comprise of the organisms which seem to be broadly distributed and persistent in industrialized food chain settings such as Salmonella and Campylobacter. In the third group lies the ‘neglected zoonotic diseases’. These are the diseases which through the introduction of hygienic management practices, culling policies, and vaccination have been eradicated in developed countries whereas in many poor settings they still remain a cause of concern as these receive very little attention from national and international authorities. This group includes brucellosis, cysticercosis, trichinellosis, bovine tuberculosis etc.

Another problem posed by the consumption of animal based foods is Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR). AMR refers to the ability of microorganisms to survive and grow in the presence of the drugs that are intended to kill or inhibit them. These antibiotics in animals are mainly used for three purposes: for disease prevention (prophylaxis), for therapeutic management, and as antibiotic growth promoters (AGP). When they were first introduced, their use led to an improved animal health, and subsequently higher levels of food safety. However, the injudicious use of antibiotics in animals and use of sub-therapeutic concentrations results in a selective pressure for AMR microorganisms. These microorganisms can then spread to environment, food and to people by consuming animal based foods. This is contributing significantly to the human health problem because a number of bacterial strains that were previously susceptible to antibiotics are now becoming resistant to various antibiotics, especially some of which having potential for last resort treatment in humans.

Besides the issue of food borne illnesses and AMR, another factor of utmost importance is that related to chemical residues in food. Pesticides are used to protect crops against insects, pests, weeds, fungi etc, and thus they play a significant role in food production. However some of the older, cheaper pesticides can remain for years in soil and water and can pose potential health risks to humans. Residues can directly get into crops and animal feed via which they reach humans through consumption of crops or animal based products containing pesticide residues.

The solution to tackle all these problems lies in One Health approach which considers the full farm-to-fork chain starting with animal feed and ending in human consumption of animal food products. In order to identify the points of intervention, it becomes imperative to understand the complex web of transmission (Figure 1) linking together the food animals, environment & humans. The food animals can get the infection from wild animals, animal feed & sick animals leading to direct infection in humans via consumption of food of animal origin & indirectly through the environment via infected water or air. Thus, through this figure, we are able to identify 5 points of intervention at which the authorities must step in in order to obliterate the cycle of transmission; veterinary doctors in case of animals, medical doctors in case of humans, public health veterinarians in case of products of animal origin & food and consumer authorities in relation to chemical residues in food.

Figure 1: Web of transmission & points of intervention


The confluence of animals, people, and our environment has created a new dynamic in which the health of each domain is dependent on the other and this confluence is actually the driving force behind disease emergence. In order to effectively control any disease including reduction in the food-borne illnesses, divided constituents and responsibilities for animal, and human health must be integrated. Instead of separating the veterinary, environment and public health, a more holistic and pro active One Health approach can help prevent future food disasters and build healthy economies.

Kriti Singh1 and Prateek Jindal2
1Ph.D. Scholar, Centre for One Health
2Assistant Professor, KVK, Barnala
Guru Angad Dev Veterinary & Animal Sciences University, Ludhiana 141004 (Punjab)