Testing livestock and their owners for zoonotic infections in Tanzania. Photo: Dr. Jo Halliday, University of Glasgow

African food safety project awarded $8.8 million

Massey University food safety and epidemiology specialists will lend their expertise to a global coalition of researchers that has been awarded $8.8 million to help prevent the spread of zoonotic infectious diseases between animals and humans among livestock farmers in Tanzania.

The funding is spread over three years between three grants awarded by the Zoonoses in Emerging Livestock Systems programme, funded by the United Kingdom’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and Department for International Development. The programme is designed to improve the health of poor farmers and their livestock through integrated human, animal and environmental health research, an approach internationally referred to as ‘One Health’.

The Massey University researchers involved are Professor of Food Safety and Veterinary Public Health Nigel French, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Epidemiology and Veterinary Public Health Dr Jackie Benschop and Dr Gerard Prinsen who has worked with development programmes in Africa for nearly 25 years.

They will join University of Otago Professor in Global Health John Crump in working on the Hazards Associated with Zoonotic Enteric Pathogens in Emerging Livestock Systems grant. They will study how bacteria that are leading causes of septicaemia and diarrhoea in sub-Saharan African countries flow through meat pathways from livestock to retail meat, and to humans. The safety of livestock products is an increasingly critical issue in Tanzania as food production is rapidly changing from meeting the needs of individuals or villages to market-driven systems using large-scale intensive production, centralised processing and wide scale distribution.

Professor Nigel French, director of Massey’s Infectious Disease Research Centre, says they’ll be researching the major food-borne pathogens along the production chains such as salmonella and campylobacter. “We’ll be helping identify the major risks associated with food production and looking at how to improve the food supply chains from farm through to consumers by putting measures in place to reduce the risk.”

Tanzania, one of the world’s poorest countries, is ranked the number one hotspot for bacterial zoonotic diseases spread through food by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development preparatory review. Non-typhoidal salmonella is one of the leading causes of preventable invasive bacterial disease in sub-Saharan Africa, associated with fatality rates of 20 per cent.

The global research collaboration is a multidisciplinary team that includes the University of Glasgow, the United Kingdom Institute of Food Research, Tanzania Ministry of Livestock Development, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology, Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre, Washington State University, Massey University, and the University of Otago.

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