Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The Fromula Of Doom

A recent interdisciplinary study shows how food poisoning might be the end of us all.

The collaboration – including the University of Notre Dame and the Budapest Corvinus University – took a closer look at a darker future, with a serious methodological background. With Earth’s population exceeding 7 billion people, sustainable and safe food raise some serious concerns. The high demand for nutrition turned the food world trade into a very complex system, with seven countries in central positions, and the ability to reach 77% of the planet’s population on an everyday basis. But there is a serious price to be paid for stuffed grocery shelves: the risk. The door is not only open for goods and services, but infections as well. A massive food poisoning epidemic – like the Escherichia coli virus in Germany last year – could do serious damages, and claim human lives.

The United Nations monitors food trade since the sixties, focusing on networks, qualities, and trends of the goods being transferred. An interesting development of the past decades was the fact that the amound of food transfer is now larger than production itself. The main exports shifted from raw agricultural materials to processed and branded foods. The research itself used a 2007 UN database as a source. The density of the network increased by 33% in the last ten years, its most vulnerable parts are dots (countries) in the centre with the most edges (connections). Through these countries, viruses could spread vastly within a few days, reaching millions, and making it virtually impossible to locate the source of an infection (in the case of Germany, it took 3 weeks). Surprisingly, the most vulnerable dot was not an agricultural giant like the USA, but the Netherlands (based on per capita trade activity).Other weak links are the seven giants including the USA, Germany, France, Italy, China and Spain.

For those of you interested in the numbers, the research was based on graph theory, that used factors like consumption, population and production figures in order to make a dynamic model, ranking the danger level of individual countries. We already mentioned that the Nederlands came out on top. They also calculated how fast a virus could spread in a country, and how vulnerably they are.

For more figures and numbers check out the original article.