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Researchers establish link between climate change and food safety

Climate change can impact our food safety in various ways. Researchers of Wageningen University and Ghent University propose in a European study that there’s often a correlation between long-term changes in temperature and precipitation and contamination of fruit and vegetables.
Floods could cause increased concentrations of harmful bacteria, which in turn can be broken down quickly by UV light, and in one region, fungi that produces harmful substances could increase due to climate change, while decreasing elsewhere. The researchers published their findings in a special issue, edited by them, of scientific journal Food Research International.

Can we still safely eat fruit and vegetables in the future, in a changing climate, or will that come under pressure, the researchers from Ghent and Wageningen wondered. They combined the latest insights and scientific findings surrounding the impact of climate change on food safety. They put together their overview as part of the Veg-i-Trade project, funded by the European Union.

Incidentally, these are the first studies into this link. The researchers think there is every reason to expand research into this. More so-called scenario analyses, which have been common in climate research in general, should also be adopted in food safety research. In the Veg-i-Trade study, a scenario analyses was included, which had hardly been done before.

Field studies and statistical analyses within the Veg-i-Trade project show there is indeed often a link between contamination of fruit and vegetables and climate variables, such as temperature and precipitation. An initial study into toxic substances from fungi, for instance, shows that for Poland, an increased risk of tomato contamination is to be expected at the end of the 21st century. In Spain, on the other hand, it will become too hot for those fungi, which could cause the risk of contamination to be smaller there. Another study shows that in a flooded lettuce field – the chance of floods increases due to climate change – increased concentrations of harmful bacteria are found. These concentrations then decrease quickly due to UV light.

One of the conclusions from a study of possibilities for adaptation to climate change, is that adaptations to future climate change will have to be very different for different countries, sectors and companies. The emphasis should be on increasing the capacity for adaptation, this study concludes.


The Ghent-Wageningen research survey is part of the European Veg-i-Trade project. Between May 2010 and April 2014, 22 partners (universities, research centres, SMEs and large industrial partners) from ten countries researched viruses such as the norovirus, bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli, fungal toxins and pesticide residues on fresh fruit and vegetables. Within Veg-i-Trade, the possible consequences of globalization and climate change on food safety of these fresh products were studied.
source: WageningenUR


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