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Nuclear Techniques Help Zambia Ensure Safety in Animal Food Products

Cattle, food safety, Zambia

The IAEA is supporting Zambia in testing beef and products derived from cattle and other animals for residues and contaminants that can lead to food poisoning. (G.Monga/CVRI) 

In Zambia, government agencies are paying increasing attention to food safety issues, but public awareness is low and life-threatening outbreaks of food poisoning can happen. The causes of food poisonings and contamination range from production and handling practices to the unsafe use of veterinary drugs among others. For many years the IAEA and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) have worked in collaboration with national authorities to help and support the country’s efforts to improve food safety in staple crops and animal products.  

Recently, these efforts have focused on meat and other animal products. Approximately half of urban consumer’s food expenditure is of livestock food products and grains, whereas the rural population is thought to rely more heavily on grains. As Zambia develops and its citizens’ incomes increase, the national diet is likely to change. It is expected that more meat will be consumed in the future, and therefore the meat processing industry will also grow. Experts are working to tackle livestock and human health problems related to meat and other foods derived from animals.  

The IAEA and FAO are working with Zambian experts to address drug resistant microbes as well as food contamination in meat and other animal products. Part of this involves strengthening the capabilities of the country’s Central Veterinary Research Institute (CVRI). Providing new equipment to analyse hazardous chemicals in food and transferring novel analytical technology, the IAEA is supporting the CVRI in delivering better services and has increased the technical knowledge of laboratory analysts through guidance and training. The ultimate aim is to ensure food is up to quality standards and rates of food poisoning are lowered.  

“Food safety is a priority for Zambia, and we are glad for the IAEA’s support in building our laboratory capabilities and encouraging collaboration among our institutions,” said Gerald Monga, Principal Veterinary Research Officer at the CVRI.  

Alleviating poverty and enhancing food safety

The presence of animal and zoonotic diseases such as colibacillosis and coccidiosis burdens animal production and requires veterinary drugs for treatment and control. However, remnants or drug residues which remain in animal products increase health risks, lead to drug resistance, and impede exports.  

To help prevent these risks, the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture has trained scientists and supported analytical testing for a Zambian residue monitoring programme – to make sure meat and other products are only sold once they no longer contain residues. These efforts, supported by the IAEA technical cooperation programme, are helping to prevent potentially harmful chemicals entering the food supply and guide the country’s use of antimicrobials in animal production.  

“I learned new rapid and confirmatory techniques for testing residues and contaminants in food. This knowledge that I also shared with colleagues has enabled us to increase capability to ensure that animal products are safer and that relevant production standards are adhered to,” said Monga. 

Monga and his colleagues have been trained on the use of drugs or toxins labelled with carbon and hydrogen isotopes (see the Science box). Isotopic techniques are helping laboratories in Zambia to analyse meat and related products such as animal feed to ensure food safety and improve both agricultural standards and food trade.  

Thanks to these efforts, the CVRI is now able to regularly test for residues.  

“The meat processors are happy with the new laboratory testing as they can use the results from the residue testing to prove compliance of required standards,” said Monga. This has allowed for exports to Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe, among others, which was previously not possible or constrained due to lack of residue testing. IAEA support has also enabled CVRI to attain and maintain accreditation to ISO 17025 — a measure of competence and reliability by end users of the analytical services. 

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