Food safety in informal markets

Safer food can generate both health and wealth for the poor but attaining safe food and safe food production in developing countries requires a radical change in food safety assessment, management and communication.

Beef and pork sellers in Maputo's traditional market

Why animal-source foods matter

  • In poor countries, livestock and fish feed billions.
  • Meat, milk, eggs and fish are important sources of the micro-nutrients and high quality proteins essential for growth and health.
  • Production and marketing of livestock and fish earn money for farmers, traders and sellers, many of whom are women.

Why informal markets matter

Most of the meat, milk, eggs and fish produced in developing countries is sold in traditional, domestic markets, lacking modern infrastructure and escaping effective food safety regulation and inspection. By ‘informal markets’ we mean:

  • Markets where many actors are not licensed and do not pay tax (e.g. street food markets and backyard poultry and pastoralist systems).
  • Markets where traditional processing, products and retail prices predominate (e.g. wet markets, milk hawking systems and artisanal cheese production).
  • Markets which escape effective health and safety regulation (most domestic food markets in developing countries).

Informal markets: a history of neglect and unbalanced interests

Much attention has been paid to the role of informal markets in maintaining and transmitting diseases but little to their role in supporting livelihoods and nutrition. Food-borne illness and animal disease are of growing concern to consumers and policymakers alike.

Consumers respond to scares by stopping or reducing purchases with knock-on effects on smallholder production and wet market retail. Policymakers often respond to health risks by favouring industrialization and reducing smallholder access to markets.

These changes are often based on fear not facts. Without evidence of the risk to human health posed by informally marketed foods or the best way to manage risks while retaining benefits, the food eaten in poor countries in neither safe nor fair.

What we have learned so far

  • Informal markets are highly preferred
  • Food safety matters to poor consumers
  • Hazards don’t always matter, but risks do
  • Perception is a poor guide for risk managers
  • Draconian food safety policy makes things worse
  • Values and cultures are more important drivers of food safety than pathogens
  • Food-borne risk is a fixable problem

Future activities and way forward

  • Prioritization and systems understanding by using comparative risk assessment
  • Risk and socio-economic assessment
  • Risk factor assessment for risk management
  • Cross-cutting through multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral approaches

The project is part of the of the agriculture-associated diseases component of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition for Health.

From Agricultural-associated diseases research at ILRI: safe foods in informal markets, an issue brief by Delia Grace, November 2011.

ILRI projects on food safety in informal markets

  • Safe Food, Fair Food: Risk-based approaches to improving food safety and market access in smallholder meat, milk and fish value chains in sub-Saharan Africa (funded by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, BMZ/GIZ)
  • Reducing disease risks and improving food safety in smallholder pig value chains in Vietnam (funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, ACIAR)
  • GETDairy: Generating evidence to support enhanced traditional dairying in Northeast India (funded by the OPEC Fund for International Development)
  • MyDairy: Measuring and mitigating the risk of mycotoxins for poor milk and maize producers and consumers in Kenya (funded by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Dying for meat

Dying for meat is a 3-minute photofilm that features small-scale butchers and consumers interviewed in Nairobi and a commentary by Delia Grace, veterinary epidemiologist and food safety expert at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), on issues that connect animal and human health. The photofilm was made for ILRI by duckrabbit, a UK-based multimedia production company.

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