FOCUS AREA 1: Zoonoses, Food Safety & Environment

Zoonoses in the Context of Peri Urban Settings and Food Safety

Zoonoses necessitate the coming together of animal, human, wildlife health and food and agriculture sectors. Foodborne zoonoses and other diseases associated with agriculture have great impact on health and livelihoods of people. The scenario in South Asia, particularly countries like India, which have seen unprecedented growth and development, with urbanisation and expansion of city precincts, has resulted in the rapid emergence of peri-urban settings where the threat of zoonotic diseases looms large, given the massive livestock population, intense interactions between humans and animals, fragile food safety standards and mushrooming of peri-urban fringes that erode the very concept of a healthy and sustainable ecosystem. An intersectoral and multidisciplinary approach that looks at the picture in its entirety will bridge the gap between risk drivers and risk management.

Zoonoses are infectious diseases have originated from animals and 75% of emerging diseases are zoonotic in nature. Most zoonotic diseases pose significant public health risks requiring immediate attention. Recent research findings suggest that a larger number of emerging diseases are being reported from developing countries compared to findings of previous mapping studies. At the same time, the occurrence and burden of endemic zoonotic disease, such as tuberculosis, brucellosis and leptospirosis are also found to be higher in poor countries, including India.

Fast facts

  • Globally, 1bn poor livestock keepers depend on 19bn livestock; of this, 4 countries, including India, have 44% poor livestock keepers (FAO)
    13 zoonoses sicken 2.4bn people, kill 2.2mn people and affect more than 1 in 7 livestock each year (ILRI, 2012)
  • Global hot spots are South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa (600mn and 300mn livestock keepers); West Europe and West USA with risk of emerging zoonoses; and India, Myanmar and Bangladesh
  • Combining all risk factors, countries that top the hotspot list include India, Bangladesh and Pakistan in South Asia; and Ethiopia, Nigeria and Congo in Africa (CGIAR)

Zoonoses and its connect with food safety
Although humans may acquire zoonoses through a number of different routes, infections that are transmitted through food and water are of particular concern. Modern food production methods and widespread distribution of food products places a large number of people at potential risk as they get exposed to pathogens from a single source. Some common diseases include salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis, and more recently, verotoxin producing Escherichia coli (VTEC) infection.This is gaining significance in developing countries such as India. Though technologically unorganised production and marketing systems pose even greater challenges to food safety in these settings.

Food production has become a national, regional and global network of food value chains. Many countries are tightly regulating live animal trade in the wake of outbreaks like SARS and Avian Influenza. However, complex and poorly regulated food manufacturing and distribution chains still offer ample opportunities for disease outbreaks. Their impact on human health can be minimised with animal health control measures and food hygiene practices. In developed countries, potential risks associated with foodborne pathogens are minimised through stringent animal health control measures aimed at eradication of zoonotic diseases within the animal population and by ensuring food safety by preventing contamination at all stages of the food supply chain.

However in countries like India, under-developed infrastructure of local supply chain actors limits availability and quality of healthy products. Packaged food supply chains tend to be first sent to formal markets and only later are followed by a more complex fresh food chain. According to industry estimates, while 32% of the food that finds its way into the market is processed, nearly 68% is non-processed. Dairy accounts for approximately13% of the entire processed food market which means most dairy products are supplied and consumed through the non processed system, pointing glaringly to the huge chunk of food that comes from the unorganised non processed food industry.

Peri-urban settings and their growing vulnerability to emerging zoonotic diseases
Peri-urban areas on fringes of cities in India have witnessed rapid and unsystematic growth in recent years. In response to increased demand for food, traditional agricultural practices have been supplemented by highly intensified, industrial-style production units that have sprung up without conforming to any norms or city bylaws, amplifying the potential for zoonotic disease transmission, emergence of new pathogens and overuse of veterinary antibiotics, which contributes to development of antibiotic resistance in pathogens affecting humans and animals.

Peri-urban livestock farming is pursued actively for generating employment and income, circulating the economy and serving as failsafe in case of crop failure. With unregulated peri-urban dairies catering to rapidly increasing requirement of meat, milk and dairy products, intensified peri-urban livestock farming demands the attention of policymakers and researchers. This ecosystem provides a relevant environment for tackling challenges of zoonotic diseases and promoting synergies between health, environment protection and development. Two key drivers through which transmission is most likely enhanced are intensified livestock production and urbanisation-induced migration of people from rural areas, often with livestock. In the absence of adequate space, animals are kept clustered, increasing human-animal interaction and amplifying human-livestock interface.

Mitigation strategies
Peri-urban ecosystems suffer from limited resources. Integrating urban and peri urban agriculture (UPA) into policies and strategies, as part of sustainable development within urban development planning and agriculture policies will have to be a priority for central and state governments. UPA must be integrated in urban planning and complex interactions between urban land use, environmental change, and socio-economic systems and approached from the systems perspective.

From the policy perspective, the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (infrastructure), National Urban Health Mission (health), Integrated Disease Surveillance Project and National Animal Disease Referral Expert System (disease surveillance/response to human and animal disease events), Food Safety and Standards Act (food safety) and Intensive Dairy Development Programme and Dairy Entrepreneurship Development Scheme, 2010 (animal husbandry) are some of the relevant frameworks that must remain active, sensitive and responsive to emerging needs.

The magnitude of the problem calls for immediate response for managing and minimising health risks associated with these diseases. Globally, disease experts are zeroing in on the adoption of a comprehensive and all-encompassing approach such as One Health/EcoHealth. Recognising the complex linkages between human/animal/environmental health, these approaches call for synchronised efforts for disease control and health risk management on part of relevant sectors including departments of health, animal husbandry, environment and forestry, among others. They attempt to improve linkages between communities at risk from policy makers, public service providers, NGOs and researchers. However, few studies are conducted in peri-urban settings and small holder dairy systems on disease emergence that look at ecological mechanisms through which diseases are transmitted from animals to humans.

The Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) have embarked on a four-year India “Research Initiative on Peri-Urban Human-Animal-Environment Interface” for research and coordination for local healthy food production, healthy livestock and enhanced public health. The goal being to generate stronger evidence-based cross-sector policy and local capacity for integrating public health and livestock health, urban planning, local food production and social development in Indian’s peri-urban settings.

As part of the Research Initiative, PHFI/RCZI-ILRI are undertaking two studies in small holder peri-urban dairy farms in India. While the first will address bovine tuberculosis at the human-animal interface, the second will address veterinary use of antibiotics. The studies will provide evidence to improve understanding of complex interactions that exist between disease risk, livestock and human health and sustainable development in different kinds of peri-urban settings across the country.

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Vu Tyong. Rethinking the Traditional Concept of Livestock Services: A Study of Response Capacity in Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam [Internet]. FAO. 2007 [cited 2015 Oct 14]. Available from:

Roadmap to Combat Zoonoses in India. Zoonoses Watch [Internet]. 2013 April-June [cited 2015 Oct 9]. Available from:
Packaged Food in India: Country Report [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2015 Oct 14]. Available from:

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Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Food Safety and Standards {Packaging and Labelling) Regulations. Notification. India:  Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. [Internet] 2011 [cited 2015 Oct 14]. Available from:,%202011.pdf

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