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Draconian bans on urban livestock in developing countries ‘not the answer’–Guardian on ILRI report

Urban zoonoses and food safety: Nairobi

Customers at a milk bar in Ndumbuini in Kabete, Nairobi  (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Mark Tran in the Guardian‘s Poverty Matters Blog warns us this week not to keep chickens under our beds. On the other hand, he infers, chicken bought on the street in poor countries may be safer to eat than that from the supermarket. Tran is reporting on a new in-depth study by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) of livestock keeping in urban areas of Nigeria and Kenya. That study found that while living among animals in crowded urban environments does have risks for human health, ‘banning urban livestock or getting rid of markets can often do more harm than good’.

‘As more people leave the countryside for the city in the developing world, many continue to rely on agriculture for a living’, Tran reports.’ At least 800 million people in cities in poor countries practise urban agriculture, from growing vegetables to keeping animals—from chickens to camels—often in close confinement in densely populated areas.

‘The close proximity of animals and humans can pose health risks. Zoonoses—diseases transmitted between animals and humans—are a health problem that particularly affects the poor in developing countries. New research from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) found that zoonoses and diseases recently emerged from animals (swine flu, bird flu, Sars) make up a quarter of infectious diseases in developing countries, compared with just 0.7% in rich countries.

Researchers, however, warn that a draconian approach to urban livestock and informal markets—where traders are unlicensed and pay no tax, and which lack health and safety rules—can end up doing more harm than good. Outright bans on livestock in urban areas or informal markets is not the answer, they say.

Getting rid of informal markets is impossible”, says Delia Grace, a food safety specialist with ILRI, who is based in Nairobi but was in London last week. “It forces trading to go underground. In Kampala [Uganda], we found traders who were harassed adopted less good practices, which is no surprise as they have to pay more attention to evading authorities than to hygiene.”. . .

ILRI experts said studies in east Africa, north-east India and Vietnam came to the surprising conclusion that food sold in formal markets (supermarkets), though commonly perceived to be safer, may have lower compliance with standards than informally marketed food. . . .

‘In Bangladesh, where poor people often keep chickens under the bed in cramped conditions, one appropriate response would be to suggest they be kept in a wicker cage at a distance from the bed, or in a shed close to home. Other simple approaches that have led to improvements in food safety in Kenya and India (milk), and Nigeria (meat) include the use of wide-necked vessels for milk that are easy to clean, tests for food safety that can be applied by consumers and traders (lactometers to check for added water), and peer pressure (the desire to be seen as a good parent). . . .’

Delia Grace is a veterinary epidemiologist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Kenya, leader of a disease component of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, and a partner with Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa. Her research involves developing and managing risk-based approaches to animal and animal-human diseases. Before joining ILRI as a postdoctoral scientist, Grace worked in community-based animal health programs in Asia and East and West Africa. Listen to Grace narrate a 3-minute photofilm on livestock food safety in Nairobi: Dying for Meat.

Read the whole article by Mark Tran in the Guardian‘s Poverty Matters Blog How to stop zoonoses spreading—don’t keep chickens under the bed, 12 Oct 2012.

Read more about the ILRI study, with links to an ILRI Factsheet on Urban Agriculture and Zoonoses in Nairobi and papers published in a special issues of Tropical Animal Health and Production, on the ILRI News Blog: Livestock in the city: New study of ‘farm animals’ raised in African cities yields surprising results, 15 Oct 2012.

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