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Your Well-Traveled Salad Could Mean Danger

Did you know that “in the United States alone, food-borne agents cause approximately 48 million illnesses (one for every six residents), 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths each year!”

“Globalization of the food supply has created conditions favorable for the emergence, reemergence, and spread of food-borne pathogens and has compounded the challenge of anticipating, detecting, and effectively responding to food-borne threats to Health.”

The United States gets it’s food from more than 200 countries, importing an “estimated 10-15 percent of all foods consumed by U.S. households, including more than three-quarters of the fresh fruits and vegetables and more than 80 percent of fresh or frozen fish and seafood.”

The well-traveled salad’s ingredients (illustrated above) originate from from 37 countries and may travel across the globe to reach your table, according to the report Improving Food Safety Through a One Health Approach, just released September 10, 2012 by National Academies Press (NAP), for the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Research Council (NRC).

The report cites several environmental factors that are “of particular relevance in driving emergence and spread of food-borne pathogens…”:

  • Intensive agricultural practices – raising and transporting large livestock, birds, fish or shellfish in close quarters, creating ideal conditions for disease emergence and spread.
  • Increased interactions between humans, domestic animals, and wildlife – often caused by habitat destruction, changing land-use patterns…
  • Environmental “commons” such as water – contamination by pathogens and chemicals, spread across different farms, regions, states and nations.

The report’s answer to the challenge is an integrated “One Health Approach.” While this is extremely important (we cannot ignore our interconnectedness), it also seems like another good reason to consciously become more of a locavore and to support local, organic, sustainable and environmentally-friendly agriculture.

From a global perspective, there are a whole host of other related issues such as: the shift from rural to urban in developing countries; global hunger; vulnerability of food systems; increased demand for meat consumption; microbial adaptions and changes; climate and weather changes; and much more. There are also related concerns are continuous and dynamic change; panarchy; demand-driven economies; and culture clashes. Whew!

They describe these as “wicked problems”

  • Complex and tangled
  • Unprecedented and unique (unrelated to past experiences)
  • Difficult to define and enigmatic
  • Having many possible solutions, none of which involves an either/or, yes-or-no choice
  • One for which any solution may generate unexpected consequences
  • Threatening
  • Often a symptom of another problem

Sounds like future conditions that Bob Johansen wrote about in his book Leaders Make the Future.

Just my luck that I would read this report less than two weeks before we embark on a cruise. The NAP report notes that “cruise ships account for 10 percent of all norovirus outbreaks in the US.” They use the Cruise Ship Paradigm to illustrate convergence, amplification and dissemination at ports of call.

We are becoming increasingly aware of how much we are all interconnected. We must think globally and act locally.

If you are a younger person, I hope you are challenged to get involved and study the environmental sciences, social sciences and spiritual practices necessary to bring about transformation and to find global solutions. We need the best minds and hearts working on this.

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