Pathogens, Pigs & Policies: Investigating food safety in the pork value chains of Nairobi – Lian Thomas

Lian Thomas

Nairobi is a city of juxtapositions, informal iron sheet housing sits in the shadow of expensive apartment buildings, expensive SUVs slow down to let cows, goats and the occasional pig to cross the road and international supermarkets share a street with informal street-food vendors.

This bustling city is an example of rapidly urbanising areas across the globe where a dynamic food system is striving to feed a growing population. There are many challenges in the formation of sustainable, secure and safe food systems and the concept of One Health is a tool that can help us in our quest to solve them.

Food safety is one of the key pillars of sustainable food systems and is the focus of the research I will be conducting with the support of the Soulsby Foundation. Under the mentorship of Professors Jonathan Rushton & Eric Fèvre, I will concentrate on food-safety risks within the pork value chains in Nairobi. Pork is an increasingly popular meat in Kenya and previous work by the University of Liverpool and ILRI have identified several value chains, of varying levels of intensification and organisation, supplying pork into the City.  

We hypothesise that each of these value chains, from the fully integrated, export level to ad-hoc, semi-formal chain, will have a unique risk profile to pork consumers. Whilst the formal regulations which govern the value chains may be the same, the ‘food-safety culture’ which they each operate under may be very different. Understanding these factors will allow the design of acceptable and appropriate food-safety interventions tailored to the individual context of the value chains.

I will investigate the risk to consumers of exposure to multiple hazards in pork (parasitic, bacterial and antimicrobial residues) supplied through three value chains representative of different levels of intensification. This component of the project will involve regular trips to slaughter houses and pork retail outlets across the city to obtain biological samples.

Diagnostic testing will take place in the labs at ILRI (International Livestock Research Institute), my host institute whilst in Kenya. As a multi-disciplinary project I will also utilise qualitative data collection and analysis to understand the food-safety culture and regulatory framework within which these value chains operate. Participatory approaches will then be used to explore potential interventions to improve food safety and what the regulatory impacts may be of those interventions.

I have been fortunate to have also been awarded a Veterinary Postdoctoral Fellowship supported by the Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF) to undertake this work. The ISSF funding was awarded by the Wellcome Trust to the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at the University of Liverpool who are using the money to build capacity in veterinary research through these competitive fellowships. As both a Soulsby and ISSF veterinary fellow I have been afforded the privilege and freedom to be able to fully focus on my research priorities, for which I am hugely grateful.

Lord Soulsby was a tireless champion of the One Health concept and through the Soulsby foundation this legacy continues. As well as enabling me to undertake my research, I am aware that being awarded a Soulsby Fellowship comes with the responsibility be an Advocate of One Health. I look forward to taking on this mantle during my fellowship and to keeping you all updated on the highs and lows of my work in Kenya.

Lian Thomas
Lian Thomas

I graduated with a DVM from St. Georges University, Grenada in 2009. After obtaining my MRCVS by examination, I undertook a PhD with the University of Edinburgh supervised by Professor Eric Fèvre investigating the epidemiology of T. solium Cysticercosis in western Kenya. After a spell outside academia, working as an independent consultant and raising a young family, I joined the University of Liverpool in January 2018 to work with Professor Jonathan Rushton on the socio-economics of One Health surveillance. As a Soulsby Fellow I will be hosted in Kenya at ILRI where I will be conducting research on food-safety in rapidly intensifying value chains. My research to date can be found on my Research Gate profile