Climate Change : Unpacking the burden on food safety

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Resource type:
Reports and discussion papers

This report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is intended to quantify some current and anticipated food safety issues that are associated with climate change. In addition to a general overview of food safety shifts in the face of climate change (Chapter 1), the authors also expand on how climate change is and will continue to impact several specific food safety hazards (Chapter 2): 

  • Foodborne pathogens and parasites
  • Harmful algal blooms
  • Pesticides
  • Mycotoxins 
  • Heavy metals, with an emphasis on methylmercury. 

Chapter 3 goes through emerging issues, technologies and opportunities to better understand,  measure and mitigate food safety challenges. And Chapter 4 expands on the ways in which stakeholders from all sectors must come together to address food safety issues, particularly within the context of climate change.

Some of the key highlights from the report include: 

  • Management of food contamination risks requires the engagement of all relevant actors in the food chain – government bodies, public health and veterinary authorities, plant pathologists, ecologists, national laboratories, private industries, food producers and non-governmental organizations. 
  • The adoption and enforcement of food safety standards and the harmonization of regulatory frameworks for food for domestic consumption and trade – at the regional and international levels – is essential to this work. 
  • To foster better preparedness for emerging issues, especially under climate change conditions, there is a growing need to shift the philosophy of food safety systems from reactive to more anticipatory approaches, including investments in early risk detection and warning systems. 
  • Consumers have an important role to play in demanding safe food, but they must be empowered to make safe, healthy, sustainable choices - and this is a shared responsibility among government bodies, consumer associations, media outlets, the scientific community and private enterprises involved in the agrifood industry.
  • Numerous gaps remain in the global understanding of how climate change affects food safety and there is need to encourage more studies that investigate these effects and the exposure risks that they pose – individually and in combinations of multiple hazards.
This resource has been peer reviewed