Response to “Watching from Farm to Fork” in Today Newspaper

Dear Sir,

I refer to the article, “Watching from farm to fork: Keeping food in Singapore safe in the global era” (Today; May 13, 2017).

AVA is in the unenviable position of being responsible for food safety and people’s health without actually being able to take a full-spectrum approach. While it is certainly clear that AVA is doing all it can to keep meat and fish safe for consumption, I wonder whether in fact tackling the problem of health and food safety needs a different approach entirely, which may or may not fall under AVA’s responsibilities.

It has been well-established that plant-based diets are far healthier than animal-derived foods, before we even consider the risk of infection from tainted meats or seafood derived from polluted oceans. In fact, plant-based diets are now known to actually reverse heart disease, improve cardiorespiratory fitness, reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes and reduce chronic inflammation [1][2][3]. Some long-term studies have even shown that diets high in red meat increase the risk of cancerous tumours [4]. 

Secondly, microplastics are now a major problem in the marine food web. Tiny fragments of plastic less than 5 mm in diameter have been found in between half and two-thirds of fish and shellfish species [5]. These microplastics easily bind with ocean pollutants such as pesticides and industrial chemical run-offs [6], and the fish that contain these microplastics are then consumed. This consumption can disrupt reproductive systems, hamper sperm production, increase insulin resistance and create behavioural anomalies [7]. Some microplastics may not cause these biological effects but may block digestive systems and eventually cause malnutrition [6].

Thirdly, many livestock animals are given large amounts of antibiotics, growth hormones and other substances for short-term profits. Not only do these create antibiotic-resistant bacteria [8], some of which can jump from animals to humans, we also do not know the long-term effects on humans of consuming animals which have been given these substances.

Lastly, even if one were to ignore the effects on health coming from the animal or fish itself and instead focus purely on pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and parasites, then it seems quite risky to trust that every single animal or fish in a batch is perfectly safe simply because a small sample in that batch has been tested. AVA can only do so much at the tail end of the process, and I have sympathies for the resource constraints they must surely face.

Instead, if one were to focus on health as a reason to regulate food, then it is reasonable, based on these facts, to encourage people to switch to plant-based diets for the majority of their food needs. This would address several problems at their source rather than trying to put the genie back in the bottle.

Yours sincerely,

Murli Ravi

[1] A way to reverse CAD?; The Journal of Family Practice (2014);

[2] Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Peak Torque Differences between Vegetarian and Omnivore Endurance Athletes: A Cross-Sectional Study; Nutrients (2016);

[3] Associations between red meat intake and biomarkers of inflammation and glucose metabolism in women; The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2013);

[4] Low Protein Intake Is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population; Cell Metabolism (2014);

[5] Anthropogenic debris in seafood: Plastic debris and fibers from textiles in fish and bivalves sold for human consumption; Nature (2015);

[6] Microplastics as contaminants in the marine environment: A review; Marine Pollution Bulletin (2011);

[7] Plastics, the environment and human health: current consensus and future trends; Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (2009);

[8] Antimicrobial Use and Resistance in Animals; Clinical Infectious Diseases (2002);