Feeding Billions While Preventing the Spread of Disease: Doable?

“Each year in the United States, an estimated 48 million people suffer from foodborne infections, and foodborne illnesses have been linked to imported food from developing countries — where sanitation and food safety is lacking or poorly enforced.” 

Science Daily – Within the next 80 years, the world’s population is expected to top 11 billion, creating a rise in global food demand — and presenting an unavoidable challenge to food production and distribution.

But a new article published in Nature Sustainability describes how the increase in population and the need to feed everyone will also, ultimately, give rise to human infectious disease, a situation the authors of the paper consider “two of the most formidable ecological and public health challenges of the 21st century.”

The article, “Emerging human infectious disease and the links to global food production,” is the first to draw connections between future population growth, agricultural development and infectious disease.

“If we start exploring how increasing population and agriculture will affect human diseases, we can prepare for and mitigate these effects,” said Jason Rohr, Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame. “We need to anticipate some of the problems that may arise from an explosion of human population in the developing world.”

According to the article, the fastest area of population growth expected by the year 2100 will occur in the developing world where disease control, surveillance and access to health care already face significant challenges.

Currently, some estimates suggest that infectious disease accounts for 75 percent of deaths in developing countries in tropical regions.

Each year in the United States, an estimated 48 million people suffer from foodborne infections, and foodborne illnesses have been linked to imported food from developing countries — where sanitation and food safety is lacking or poorly enforced.

Of that number, 128,000 are hospitalized and approximately 3,000 people each year die from foodborne infection.

As the world’s population grows, the state of rural economies, use of agrochemicals and exploitation of natural resources, among other factors, are poised to further contribute to infectious disease outbreaks. “There are many modern examples where high human contact with farm animals or wild game is a likely cause of new human diseases that have become global pandemics,” such as avian and swine flu, and mad cow disease, Rohr said.

Rohr studies human schistosomiasis [also known as snail fever and bilharzia], a worm infection transmitted from snails to humans in many tropical and subtropical parts of the world … Read more.