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Food-trade network vulnerable to fast spread of contaminants

Date:
June 7, 2012
Source:
University of Notre Dame
Summary:
Physicists and food science experts have recently published a rigorous analysis of the international food-trade network that shows the network's vulnerability to the fast spread of contaminants as well as the correlation between known food poisoning outbreaks and the centrality of countries on the network.

Scientists have completed a rigorous analysis of the international food-trade network that shows the network's vulnerability to the fast spread of contaminants as well as the correlation between known food poisoning outbreaks and the centrality of countries on the network.
Credit: © Franck Boston / Fotolia

University of Notre Dame network physicists Mária Ercsey-Ravasz and Zoltán Toroczkai of the Interdisciplinary Center for Network Science and Applications, in collaboration with food science experts, have recently published a rigorous analysis of the international food-trade network that shows the network's vulnerability to the fast spread of contaminants as well as the correlation between known food poisoning outbreaks and the centrality of countries on the network.

Together with food science experts József Baranyi, from the Institute of Food Research in the U.K., and Zoltán Lakner, of Corvinus University in Budapest, Ercsey-Ravasz and Toroczkai recently published their results in the journal PLoS ONE.

As the world's population climbs past 7 billion, the sustainable production and distribution of food is balanced against the need to ensure its chemical and microbiological safety. The new paper maps the international agro-food trade network (IFTN) -- a highly complex and heterogeneous system formed around a core group of seven countries, each trading with more than 77 percent of the world's nations. Since any two countries in the IFTN have only two degrees of separation on the network, the IFTN is capable of spreading a foodborne contaminant very efficiently. It also tends to mask the contaminant's origins once the system is compromised, since so many network paths run through the central nodes.

By 2030, food demand is expected to increase by 50 percent. Global food transport has been increasing at an exponential rate since the 1960s -- faster than food production itself. As the system grows, so does pressure on regulation and surveillance organizations to track contaminants and prevent deadly outbreaks, such as the 2011 events in the U.S. (Listeria monocytogenes_) and Germany (_Escherichia coli).

While the paper does not predict an increase in food poisoning cases, it does predict significant delays with serious potential consequences in the identification of the outbreaks' sources -- calling for an interdisciplinary and incentivized approach to the understanding of the IFTN that will build on its identification of the network's critical spots


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Notre Dame. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Mária Ercsey-Ravasz, Zoltán Toroczkai, Zoltán Lakner, József Baranyi. Complexity of the International Agro-Food Trade Network and Its Impact on Food Safety. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (5): e37810 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037810

Cite This Page:

University of Notre Dame. "Food-trade network vulnerable to fast spread of contaminants." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 June 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120607180241.htm>.
University of Notre Dame. (2012, June 7). Food-trade network vulnerable to fast spread of contaminants. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120607180241.htm
University of Notre Dame. "Food-trade network vulnerable to fast spread of contaminants." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120607180241.htm (accessed April 20, 2014).

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