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Review of the Use of GIS in Public Health and Food Safety


The use of geographic information systems (GIS) is increasingly common in the scientific domains of public health and food safety. In this paper, we present the results of three analyses that we conducted to explore the application of GIS in these domains. The analysis includes a case study to test the feasibility of providing GIS services through an application developed with open‐source tools. The first section presents the results from a scoping review looking at the current GIS practices in the public health and food safety domains as found in scientific literature. The second section shares the findings from a visual exploration of the use of GIS by EU agencies and supra‐national bodies in the public health and food safety domains. The third section presents the current scenario of GIS used at the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), which was tracked with an internal survey circulated among EFSA's scientific community. Alongside the three analyses, we look at current practices in terms of 1) fields in which GIS is used, 2) the infrastructure used for GIS, 3) GIS data, and 4) the methodology used for data collection, processing and analysis. The results show that GIS is used in multiple fields related to public health and food safety, such as epidemiology, plant health, animal health, and agriculture. We conclude that despite facing challenges regarding data quality issues, legal implications, and technical limitations, GIS has great potential given its relevance to the current environmental and health crises: such a holistic approach is in line with the One Health concept supported by EFSA and different European and international institutions. Moreover, GIS facilitates transition from control to prevention thanks to its capacity to develop spatial models that move from description to prediction. Finally, GIS facilitates communication, which guides better policy making.

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