Despite the evident and complex links between health, nutrition, agriculture, and AKST [Agricultural Knowledge Science and Technology], improving human health is not generally an explicit goal of agricultural policy. Agriculture and AKST can affect a range of health issues including undernutrition, chronic diseases, infectious diseases, food safety, and environmental and occupational health. Ill heath in the farming community can in turn reduce agricultural productivity and the ability to develop and deploy appropriate AKST. Ill health can result from undernutrition, as well as over-nutrition. Despite increased global food production over recent decades, undernutrition is still a major global public health problem, causing over 15% of the global disease burden. Protein energy and micronutrient malnutrition remain challenges, with high variability between and within countries. Food security can be improved through policies and programs to increase dietary diversity and through development and deployment of existing and new technologies for production, processing, preservation, and distribution of food.
AKST policies and practices have increased production and new mechanisms for food processing. Reduced dietary quality and diversity and inexpensive foods with low nutrient density have been associated with increasing rates of worldwide obesity and chronic disease. Poor diet throughout the life course is a major risk factor for chronic diseases, which are the leading cause of global deaths. There is a need to focus on consumers and the importance of dietary quality as main drivers of production, and not merely on quantity or price. Strategies include fiscal policies (taxation, trade regimes) for health-promoting foods and regulation of food product formulation, labeling, and commercial information.
Globalization of the food supply, accompanied by concentration of food distribution and processing companies, and growing consumer awareness increase the need for effective, coordinated, and proactive national food safety systems. Health concerns that could be addressed by AKST include the presence of pesticide residues, heavy metals, hormones, antibiotics and various additives in the food system as well as those related to large-scale livestock farming.
Strengthened food safety measures are important and necessary in both domestic and export markets and can impose significant costs. Some countries may need help in meeting food control costs such as monitoring and inspection, and costs associated with market rejection of contaminated commodities. Taking a broad and integrated agroecosystem and human health approach can facilitate identification of animal, plant, and human health risks, and appropriate AKST responses.
Worldwide, agriculture accounts for at least 170,000 occupational deaths each year: half of all fatal accidents. Machinery and equipment, such as tractors and harvesters, account for the highest rates of injury and death, particularly among rural laborers. Other important health hazards include agrochemical poisoning, transmissible animal diseases, toxic or allergenic agents, and noise, vibration and ergonomic hazards. Improving occupational health requires a greater emphasis on health protection through development and enforcement of health and safety regulations. Policies should explicitly address tradeoffs between livelihood benefits, environmental, occupational and public health risks.
The incidence and geographic range of many emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases are influenced by the intensification of crop and livestock systems. Serious socioeconomic impacts can arise when diseases spread widely within human or animal populations, or when they spill over from animal reservoirs to human hosts. Most of the factors that contribute to disease emergence will continue, if not intensify. Integrating policies and programs across the food chain can help reduce the spread of infectious diseases; robust detection, surveillance, monitoring, and response programs are critical.