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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Chemical contamination of globalized food systems : applying systems thinking to navigate a multi-level planetary health threat Andrade Rivas, Federico


Background: Pollution is a major planetary health concern that claims ~9 million lives a year and threatens the integrity of ecosystems that support life on Earth. Chemical contamination has effects at local, regional, and global scales. However, research at some scales may be privileged due to data availability and research practices, leading to persistent gaps. Based on empirical research, this dissertation explored two overarching questions: (1) how can systems thinking expand our understanding of the scale challenges of data to assess pesticides contamination distribution and effects in countries with potentially high levels of exposure?; and (2) how can systems thinking provide a framework to bridge local exposure studies with the critical appraisal of planetary health contamination research at broader scales? Methods: I applied geospatial science to identify areas with the potential to affect human health and the integrity of ecosystems in Ecuador, a country with alarming pesticide use practices. In addition, I used spatial clustering detection and Bayesian multi-level spatial regression to assess the distribution of perinatal health outcomes and their association with application rates. Finally, I conducted a systematic scoping literature review of contamination research in Indigenous food systems. I reflected on the results based on our marine toxicology research conducted in solidarity with the Tsleil-Waututh Nation in Canada. Conclusions: The challenges of pollution to planetary health require the integration of knowledge across scales. Conceptual frameworks that foster multi-scalar discussions can fill knowledge gaps, link multi-level evidence and shift the accountability of contamination issues to scales with the agency over pollution drivers. We found widespread use of pesticides in Ecuador threatening human health and strategic ecosystems. Regional assessments and interventions should follow in the areas of concern highlighted in this study. Moreover, a nationwide coordinated strategy to monitor and control the effects of prenatal pesticide exposures is warranted. Although seldom studied, large-scale drivers of pesticide contamination should be integrated into existing knowledge at local scales. This should promote multi-level controls beyond solely relying on local-level behavioural exposure controls. Conversely, meaningful collaborations with Indigenous populations are vital to strengthening the analytic frameworks of multi-scalar integrative approaches to human health.

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