IEHIAS question: example from agriculture
- The text on this page is taken from an equivalent page of the IEHIAS-project.
As part of the EU-funded INTARESE project, which contribued to the development of this Toolbox, a case study was carried out to assess the health impacts of agricultural land use change in England and Greece.
Agriculture can be a significant source of environmental contamination and thus of human exposure to pollutants. Risks are often greatest for those in close proximity to agriculture (e.g. farm-workers, their families and bystanders in the local community). Nevertheless, exposures may also occur more widely as a result of long-distance transport of pollutants by air, water and the food distribution system.
Rightly or wrongly, public concern about these risks has also been inflated in recent years. In part this has been a result of well-publicised food contamination events, such as the BSE crisis in the UK or the dioxin scare in Belgium. Increased food allergies (especially in children) have likewise contributed to concerns, and (unsubstantiated) claims have been made that people living near intensively farmed land have been affected by a range of unexplained health symptoms.
Changes in agricultural land use and practice may therefore have significant implications for human health, and may raise public anxiety about food safety. In the European Union, we can expect substantial changes in coming years, as farmers react to changing economic circumstances (e.g. world food and energy prices), environmental conditions ( e.g. climate change), and to government policies. The key question here, therefore, is:
- what are the likely health impacts for the general public of changes in agricultural land use (due to environmental, economic and policy developments) in the European Union over the foreseeable future?
Like other such questions about environmental health, this one has many hidden facets which need to be made explicit if a meaningful assessment is to be done. Agriculture can affect human health in many different ways, through different environmental and exposure pathways (e.g. via air, water or food). Many different agents might be involved, including pollutants and physical risks (e.g. accidents). A wide range of health effects may also arise. All these are likely to vary depending on where the assessment is conducted, the types of agricultural activities considered, and the sorts of policy interventions and technologies assumed to be in use. In this case, for reasons of practicalities, attention was ultimately focused on risks to local (bystander) populations from agriculturally-related air pollution (pesticides, particulates and endotoxins), and on two study areas (in England and Greece). A much wider and more comprehensive assessment would clearly be necessary to address the full health impacts of agriculture.