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article imageGlobal food network is vulnerable to contamination risks

By Tim Sandle     Jun 10, 2012 in Food
New research from the University of Notre Dame suggests that the global food trade network is vulnerable to the spread of food related illness caused by contamination.
The new research paper studies and maps the international agriculture and food trade network. This is described, according to the University's press release, as "a highly complex and heterogeneous system formed around a core group of seven countries, each trading with more than 77 percent of the world's nations."
The research paper explains that vulnerability to food contamination risks arise because no two countries in the food network have more than two degrees of separation from any other country on the network. This means that if there is a food related contamination incident in any territory, the way that food trade is constituted then any foodborne contaminant will be spread very quickly. For this the study surmises the difficulties in pinning down two significant food contamination events in 2011, both involving dangerous bacteria: U.S.A Listeria monocytogenes, and Germany Escherichia coli.
In the USA case, some 146 people were infected, and 30 died, in a food scandal crossing 28 different states (as the US Center for Disease Control reported).
Another problem with the global food trade system is that it is very difficult to work out the origin of any contamination given the complexity of the food trade, which is moved back and forth through different 'nodes'.
The global food network is becoming increasingly complex, as the study notes "Global food transport has been increasing at an exponential rate since the 1960s — faster than food production itself."
The research calls upon a new global governance structure to regulate better the trade of food and as a measure to help raise consumer confidence.
The research study, led by Mária Ercsey-Ravasz and Zoltán Toroczkai, was published in the Public Library of Science Journal (PLoS One).
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