Food Safety versus Food Security - Interview with Johanna Lindahl

2022-06-15

Johanna Lindahl, scientist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), leads the workshop Food Safety versus Food Security, part of the Uppsala Health Summit 2022. In this interview, we learn about Johanna’s ‘aha’ moment in research and her reflections on this year’s summit theme. Uppsala Health Summit 2022 provided a unique opportunity for Johanna and her workshop colleagues to collaborate.

How did you and your research colleagues team up for one of the summit workshops?

Johanna: We are scientists and risk assessors from different disciplines with a common interest in food safety and food security. For many years we tried to get research grants for joint projects between the SLU, the National Veterinary Institute (SVA) and the Food Safety Authority to use cross-disciplinary approaches to discuss the trade-offs and conflicts between the topics of food safety and food security, but it is difficult to secure research funding for these types of projects.

In your opinion, what are the leading public health concerns about food systems, and what needs to be done to achieve sustainable, equitable food systems promoting our health?

Johanna: Food is essential in so many ways to human health, and the public health concerns vary between countries. In Europe, we control many microbiological and chemical hazards in food, and here the main public health concern may be the over-consumption of sugar. In other parts of the world, bacterial contamination is a much bigger problem.

What are your expectations for Uppsala Health Summit 2022 and your involvement?

Johanna: I hope for fruitful discussion on this topic and ideas on the way forward towards collaborations and changed policies.

Can you tell us about an ‘Aha moment’ that you have had in your research?

Johanna: When I was studying food safety at a university in Sweden, we were told about aflatoxins, and we were told that this is one of the most carcinogenic substances known, which was worrying. Then we were told that there was nothing to really worry about; the EU had stringent regulations, and food was regularly tested, so the risk was negligible.

It was not until I started researching food safety in Africa that I realised that a) for most of the world, this is a real risk and not being controlled at all, and b) it would not be enough food for people to eat if we would implement strict regulations, and c) that the fact that EU had strict regulations could mean that the most contaminated products remained within the poorest countries, meaning that the desire to protect inhabitants in one part of the world could negatively affect other people. Things are not as simple as they may seem at first.