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WHO's estimates of the burden of disease caused by foodborne chemical toxins

Chemicals prevalent in the food supply can have a significant impact on the global burden of disease, a WHO Task Force shows with new research published in F1000Research

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In a translational research article, which will be peer-reviewed after publication in F1000Research, the FERG Task Force on Chemicals in Food (which involved leading researchers from 18 research affiliations in 8 different countries) calculated illnesses, deaths and 'disability adjusted life years' (DALYs) for four chemicals: dioxin, aflatoxin, peanut allergen and cyanide in cassava (a major staple food in the developing world). These chemicals are known to have reproductive/endocrine, cancerous, allergic and neurological effects, respectively, and were identified by the Task Force as priority compounds. Priority rankings were based on the severity of potential health effects, the size of the population vulnerable to exposure, and the current availability of data.

In 2010, the four selected chemicals were estimated to be collectively associated with 339,000 illnesses, 20,000 deaths, and 1,012,000 DALYs (which are used as the most common single metric for quantifying death and disability). Aflatoxin was associated with the highest global DALYs (636,869), whereas dioxin was associated with the greatest number of illnesses (193,447, albeit 0 deaths).

The Southeast Asian, Western Pacific, and African regions showed the highest burdens of disease, with aflatoxin making the largest contribution in the latter two regions, while dioxin is the largest contributor in Southeast Asia. The findings also show that cyanide in cassava and aflatoxin are associated with diseases which have high case-fatality rates.

Herman Gibb, chair of the FERG Task Force on Chemicals in Food and lead author of the F1000Research paper, said: "The burden of disease associated with foodborne chemicals is a critical public health issue and assessment of this issue is urgently needed.

"The research presented here has important global health implications, and it is therefore important that the results be communicated quickly. The F1000Research publishing model gave us that opportunity. Furthermore, we are delighted by the transparency of the peer review process which will benefit both the readers and the authors."

The F1000Research paper is published alongside a broader analysis of the global burden of foodborne bacteria, viruses, parasites, and chemicals from the WHO. The larger report shows almost 1 in 10 people fall ill every year from eating contaminated food, resulting in 420, 000 deaths.

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How to cite this article:

World Health Organization estimates of the global and regional disease burden of four foodborne chemical toxins, 2010: a data synthesis [version 1; referees: awaiting peer review]
Gibb H, Devleesschauwer B, Bolger PM et al.
F1000Research 2015, 4:1393 (doi: 10.12688/f1000research.7340.1)

About F1000Research

F1000Research is an open science publishing platform for life scientists that offers immediate publication and transparent peer review, avoiding editorial bias and ensuring the inclusion of all source data. This process helps scientists to avoid the traditional, anonymous, pre-publication peer-review process that can cause long delays before new results become visible.

All articles must pass an initial in-house quality check prior to publication on F1000Research. Following open, invited peer review where the referee's name and affiliation and the referee reports are published alongside the article, authors can make revisions that are then published as new article versions.

Since its launch in January 2013, F1000Research has published more than 1050 articles across the life sciences, written by more than 3,200 authors. For more details on F1000Research go to http://www.f1000research.com

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