Research Topic

Conflicts and Compromises between Food Safety Policies and Environmental Sustainability

About this Research Topic

Over the past two decades, concerns over the microbial safety of food have intensified due to recurring outbreaks of foodborne illness. Governments and food industries have responded to these concerns with an array of policies designed to better ensure food safety at multiple scales and across the farm-to-fork continuum. Many of these policies focus on preventive measures intended to reduce the risk of pathogenic contamination during primary production, necessitating changes to farming practices that may affect environmental sustainability at the field and landscape level. Moreover, policy changes at later stages of the supply chain, such as heightened product traceability requirements, may magnify the pressures on primary producers (i.e. farmers).

Some practices intended to promote food safety may directly conflict with environmental conservation and protection practices on farms. Efforts to prevent wild animals from carrying pathogens into fields—for example by removing habitat, installing wildlife exclusion fences, or applying poison bait—have raised concerns regarding biodiversity preservation in agricultural landscapes. Ecosystem services such as pollination and pest predation may be degraded as a result. Habitat removal may also directly conflict with water conservation practices used by farmers to control erosion, reduce runoff, and increase infiltration. Fear of human pathogens in biological soil amendments of biological origin may discourage farmers from using these inputs.

Tensions between food safety policies and environmental sustainability may extend beyond primary production. For example, concerns over the safety of wash water and ice (for cooling) appears to discourage the use of recycled water and to encourage the use of sanitizing agents, particularly chlorine, which may have cumulative environmental impacts. An abundance of food safety caution may also have an effect on rates of food waste, as producers and their buyers add potential contamination to the list of reasons to reject and destroy food products. Finally, food handlers, processors, and distributors may be increasing energy, water, packaging material, and other resource use in order to meet preventive food safety requirement – but there is a dearth of research to assess this hypothesis.

We invite contributions from a variety of disciplinary perspectives that examine the causes and consequences of conflict between food safety policies and environmental sustainability outcomes. We would be particularly interested in contributions that identify and assess options for alleviating conflict or creating synergies between food safety and environmental sustainability. Examples of specific areas of actual or potential conflict (and compromise) with food safety policies, standards, best practices, or guidance that might fit within this research topic include:

- Functional biodiversity and ecosystem services
- Wildlife and native habitat conservation
- Water use and conservation
- Soil health
- Integrated crop-livestock systems
- Agricultural pollution
- Food waste
- Energy use/intensity
- Material waste (e.g. disposable v. reusable packaging)
- Climate change readiness and adaptation
- Organic, biodynamic, agroecological, or sustainable agriculture


Keywords: Food safety, Food safety policy, Environmental sustainability, Foodborne illness, Biodiversity preservation, Degradation of ecosystem services, Water conservation, Farming, Habitat removal effects, Food waste, Contamination, Functional biodiversity, Ecosystem services, Wildlife conservation, Habitat conservation, Soil health, Integrated crop-livestock systems, Agricultural pollution, Energy use, Material waste, Climate change, Sustainable agriculture


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Over the past two decades, concerns over the microbial safety of food have intensified due to recurring outbreaks of foodborne illness. Governments and food industries have responded to these concerns with an array of policies designed to better ensure food safety at multiple scales and across the farm-to-fork continuum. Many of these policies focus on preventive measures intended to reduce the risk of pathogenic contamination during primary production, necessitating changes to farming practices that may affect environmental sustainability at the field and landscape level. Moreover, policy changes at later stages of the supply chain, such as heightened product traceability requirements, may magnify the pressures on primary producers (i.e. farmers).

Some practices intended to promote food safety may directly conflict with environmental conservation and protection practices on farms. Efforts to prevent wild animals from carrying pathogens into fields—for example by removing habitat, installing wildlife exclusion fences, or applying poison bait—have raised concerns regarding biodiversity preservation in agricultural landscapes. Ecosystem services such as pollination and pest predation may be degraded as a result. Habitat removal may also directly conflict with water conservation practices used by farmers to control erosion, reduce runoff, and increase infiltration. Fear of human pathogens in biological soil amendments of biological origin may discourage farmers from using these inputs.

Tensions between food safety policies and environmental sustainability may extend beyond primary production. For example, concerns over the safety of wash water and ice (for cooling) appears to discourage the use of recycled water and to encourage the use of sanitizing agents, particularly chlorine, which may have cumulative environmental impacts. An abundance of food safety caution may also have an effect on rates of food waste, as producers and their buyers add potential contamination to the list of reasons to reject and destroy food products. Finally, food handlers, processors, and distributors may be increasing energy, water, packaging material, and other resource use in order to meet preventive food safety requirement – but there is a dearth of research to assess this hypothesis.

We invite contributions from a variety of disciplinary perspectives that examine the causes and consequences of conflict between food safety policies and environmental sustainability outcomes. We would be particularly interested in contributions that identify and assess options for alleviating conflict or creating synergies between food safety and environmental sustainability. Examples of specific areas of actual or potential conflict (and compromise) with food safety policies, standards, best practices, or guidance that might fit within this research topic include:

- Functional biodiversity and ecosystem services
- Wildlife and native habitat conservation
- Water use and conservation
- Soil health
- Integrated crop-livestock systems
- Agricultural pollution
- Food waste
- Energy use/intensity
- Material waste (e.g. disposable v. reusable packaging)
- Climate change readiness and adaptation
- Organic, biodynamic, agroecological, or sustainable agriculture


Keywords: Food safety, Food safety policy, Environmental sustainability, Foodborne illness, Biodiversity preservation, Degradation of ecosystem services, Water conservation, Farming, Habitat removal effects, Food waste, Contamination, Functional biodiversity, Ecosystem services, Wildlife conservation, Habitat conservation, Soil health, Integrated crop-livestock systems, Agricultural pollution, Energy use, Material waste, Climate change, Sustainable agriculture


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

11 January 2019 Abstract
03 May 2019 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

11 January 2019 Abstract
03 May 2019 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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