Four new reports highlight importance of the microbiome for food safety

FAO experts call for more systematic research into dynamic ecosystems that impact human health as well as food safety and planetary health.

All evidence suggests that the microbiome, an emerging concept referring to the complex ecosystems made up of and by bacteria and other microorganisms, has powerful explanatory value for matters related to human, plant and planetary health.

To contribute to the scientific debate, and to stimulate and guide more of it, experts at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) have produced four new publications, and one focusing on soil health, and three scientific reviews of how microplastics, pesticide residues and veterinary medicines may impact the safety of our food supply.

“The reviews that were done on pesticides and veterinary drugs, as well as on microplastics reveal that from a methodology perspective, a lot still needs to be done to strengthen and systematize the way research is structured so that this promising field can indeed be integrated in the way we shape food standards,” said FAO Senior Food Safety Officer Catherine Bessy.

Broadly, a microbiome is the community of bacteria, fungi, archaea and other microorganism and their theatre of activity, which includes their interactions with each other and their respective environments. Microbiomes exist within and across all ecosystems, in plants, animals, soils, forests, oceans and, importantly, in humans. All vary enormously in composition and functions and over space and time but research, aided by technological advances in genomic sequencing, points to some broad patterns that may correlate to health or dysfunction for their hosts and host ecosystems. A growing corpus of evidence suggests that gut microbiome may be associated with many health and nutrition outcomes, including child stunting, obesity and overweight, cognitive functions, immune functions, among others.

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