The Economics of Food Safety in Developing Countries
In recent years, there have been heightened concerns about food safety, not only amongst scientists with an interest in food toxicology or microbiology, for example, butalso economists and other social scientists that focus on the wider socio-economic issuesassociated with the safety of a country’s food supply. In part this reflects the realincidence of food-borne illnesses world-wide, and in part consumer concerns about thesafety of the food they consume, particularly in industrialised countries, often fuelled by media attention. An added dimension is the impact of food safety regulations on globaltrade in agricultural and food products. In some ways there is a stark contrast betweenindustrialised and developing countries, although in both contexts the incidence of food-borne diseases (in particular those associated with microbial pathogens) is acknowledgedto be considerable. Whilst this paper will highlight these differences and similarities, itsprimary focus is on the economics of food safety, specifically in a developing country context.In industrialised countries, whilst food supplies are generally considered to be safe,evidence suggests that food-borne illnesses are prevalent and that the incidence of certainfood-borne pathogens is increasing. For example, more than 40 different food-bornepathogens are known to cause human illness (Buzby
, 2001). Significant incidents of contaminated meat, dairy products, salads and canned goods, although relatively infrequent, send signals to consumers that the food they purchase is not risk-free. Inmany cases only small groups of consumers are directly affected by the events, yetpublicized food scares create an environment, through a process of ‘social amplification’,in which food safety is an increasingly widespread and pressing concern. Whilst it is recognised that the prevelance of food-borne illness in developing countries isconsiderable, in most there is limited data through which the incidence of particulardiseases and trends over time can be assessed. In many cases, high rates of food-borneillness are associated with low levels of general economic development and, morespecifically, limited capacity to control the safety of the food supply. Further, there areclose inter-relationships between food safety issues and other elements of environmentalhealth, for example sanitation, water quality and housing conditions.