From Farm To Fork Concept

Following the food from the farm where the animal is born through to the dinner plate and on to your fork

SAFE FOOD

DR. MUJEEB FAZILI

One of the peculiarities of the people living in Kashmir is their non-vegetarian food habit. Unlike several other traditions that got modified or changed with the passage of time, they have never compromised with eating food of animal origin. As a result wealth worth crores is spent annually even at the cost of health. Food safety is an important public health issue and the consumer concerns are increasing day by day.
In order to make available “safe food” of animal origin, a ‘new’ and ‘holistic’ concept called “From Farm to Fork Concept” has evolved and is being adopted by most of the countries world over. This concept envisages the process of following the food from the farm where the animal is born through to the dinner plate and on to your fork. Starting from the farm the various phases through which the food passes include live-animal food markets, slaughter houses, food processing units, storage, transport and handling of the food and food products. One of the main aims and advantages of this concept is that in the event of a problem developing, such as a food ‘poisoning’ incident, the food, its processing and its source can more easily be traced, investigated and effectively corrected.
 The major components of food safety at the farm level include animal welfare, use of medicines, animal feed along with the control and treatment of the animal including zoonotic diseases. Good animal welfare equates to good food safety. Public health, animal health and animal welfare are indeed interrelated and require a holistic approach. As an example of this, stressed animals are more likely to develop diseases, which will require veterinary treatment. However, this may increase the presence of drug residues in the animal produce, which in turn may affect public health. While treating the animal, the practice of using the right medicine for the right species and at the correct dose should be followed strictly. The maintenance of proper records of medicines given to individual animals is important to ensure that any animal or the milk sent to the market has drug residues below the permitted limit. The period required to achieve it following treatment to the animal is known as the milk and meat “withdrawal period”. The indiscriminate use of antibiotics in animals results in development of resistance to them. Bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics represent a risk to the future generations of animals and could also reach a slaughterhouse or a market, and in turn may transfer antibiotic resistance to the consumers. The animal feed containing toxic materials, will affect the health of the animals. In some cases, the toxin in the animal feed can be absorbed by the animal and then passed on to the consumer in the milk, meat or eggs produced. Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (Mad Cow Disease) is a well known example of contamination in animal feed. Early diagnosis and control of the animal diseases has to be given top most priority. Diseases of great interest are zoonoses like avian influenza (H5N1 infection), tuberculosis (TB) and brucellosis (Bangs disease) that can affect both animals and man. Efforts have to be made so that such diseases would not enter the food chain.
Food animal markets, worldwide, are well known for spreading disease from farm back to farm or further down the “farm to fork” food chain. Therefore this is an area where strict monitoring and additional measures such as “rest days” (during which markets are kept empty while they are thoroughly cleansed) are also required.
According to The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), “Control and/or reduction of biological hazards of animal and public health importance by ante- and post-mortem meat inspection are a core responsibility of Veterinary Services.” As defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica; “ante-mortem inspection identifies animals not fit for human consumption. Here animals that are down, disabled, diseased, or dead are removed from the food chain and labeled “condemned.” Other animals showing signs of being sick are labeled “suspect” and are segregated from healthy animals for more thorough inspection during processing procedures. In order to safeguard the public, additional checks added now are to look for substances such as growth promoters, hormones, antibiotics or chemicals used legally or illegally in the production of the meat. A high general level of hygiene in a slaughterhouse is vital.
While processing the food products, the screening has to be repeated for serious pathogens (like salmonella) and Mad Cow Disease that might have escaped recognition earlier.
During storage and transport, food has to be correctly handled at the correct temperature and maintained hygienically. The importance of food handling is highlighted by the fact that the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) estimates that 85% of food poisoning cases could be avoided if people just handle food properly.
Keeping the above mentioned important steps through which the food passes in mind let us analyze the current scenario in our valley. Significant increase in milk production (average 366ml/caput/day compared to national 200ml/caput/day) and plausible improvement in mutton and chicken production has been recorded during last few decades. However, production of ‘safe’ food has not received the required attention. The various interlinking steps for ensuring safe food availability are either non-existent or run in primitive forms. The animal welfare issues are given least consideration; whether animals are reared in farms or owned singly/ in small groups by the farmers. Drugs, particularly antibiotics and analgesics, are administered to the ailing animals indiscriminately even by owner’s themselves. Meat and milk withdrawal time is not being practiced anywhere. Several veterinarians, paraveterinarians and animal owners have suffered from zoonotic disease called Brucellosis during the recent past. Most of the animal feed is being imported from neighboring states without any system in place to regularly ascertain its toxic components. Even a single modern slaughter house is still a dream for 14 lakh human population living in Srinagar city. The people undertaking marketing of meat, poultry and milk are ignorant about the hygienic principles and the results of enforcing the food safety act 2006 are not perceived. Although the expectations of achieving sustained food production for an ever increasing human population are high yet the budgetary allocations for the animal sector are meager.
 As a matter of fact Kashmir has high potential for establishment of a viable industry that could make available safe and nutritious food to our masses and simultaneously provide employment to our educated youth. Along with the increase in the food quantity there is a genuine need to intensify the efforts to improve food safety. Enumerable challenges and short comings visible everywhere in this field could be overcome if we make comprehensive plans giving due consideration to all interrelated segments starting from healthy livestock and ending with healthy human beings. Several professionals and technologists have to play role in making safe food and its products available, but it is the Veterinarians at every link in the chain who have the knowledge and expertise to audit the standards of animal health, animal welfare and public health from “stable to table” or “farm to fork”. They therefore deserve the strategic role in such projects so that only the “Vetted” food of animal origin reaches the consumer.
Author is Associate Professor, Faculty of Veterinary Sciences & AH, SKUAST-K. Shuhama, Srinagar.

Lastupdate on : Tue, 25 Dec 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 25 Dec 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 26 Dec 2012 00:00:00 IST




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