FAO studies the relationships between urban food waste, habitats, scavengers and zoonotic diseases
Rapidly rising incomes and urbanization, combined with underlying population growth, are driving demand for meat and other animal products in many developing countries, and, indirectly, have also increased the amount of food waste that certain zoonosis-harbouring scavengers seek to survive on. Understanding the dynamics of disease hosts is relevant considering that animal diseases crossing over to humans are of increasing global concern and given that growing economic integration, labour migration to urban centres and trade expansion make it possible for outbreaks to rapidly spread in human populations.
The speed of demographic, social and economic changes in rapidly evolving contexts can outpace the capacity of governments and societies to provide the necessary assessment, regulatory and policy frameworks to ensure an appropriate balance between the provision of essential private and public goods. The Animal Production and Health Division (AGA) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is approaching this fundamental veterinary public health issue from a disease ecology perspective, in which disease emergence (or flare-up) is viewed as an indicator of changing interactions among diverse disease ecological landscapes.
Historically, human food waste produced in urban areas sustained populations of free-roaming dogs and cats. Nowadays, with changing patterns of pet keeping and declines in the number of unrestrained dogs and cats in selected settings, urban food waste is increasingly supporting populations of wildlife scavengers, such as red foxes and raccoons, among many others, which have moved into urban areas to fill the niche once occupied by dogs and cats. Application of methodologies from waste management research indicate that both production of urban food waste and efficiency of municipal waste collection can be correlated to per caput GDP, thereby making it possible to estimate the amount of urban food waste available to scavengers in a given area. Using regional and international rabies data to validate predictive models it was determined that, under certain conditions, high levels of available urban food waste can be predictive of potential scavenger-associated zoonotic infections.
The preliminary findings of this ongoing study suggest that further analysis of the linkages between urban food waste, habitats, scavengers and zoonotic diseases is warranted. Furthermore, the adoption of modern technologies such as geospatial mapping capabilities could further improve our understanding of disease emergence and the multidimensional ecological factors that underpin pathogen evolution, establishment and persistence. These results also point out the important roles played by urban planning, waste management and public health in the prevention of zoonoses, thereby incorporating all available evidence to base comprehensive decision-making processes for sound veterinary and public policies.
This study is being carried out by Margaret Luck, a public health consultant, under the overall guidance of Jan Slingenbergh, Senior Animal Health Officer and Head of EMPRES at the Food and Agriculture Organization.