Increase in animal diseases necessitates new approach

16 Dec 2013 15:30pm
WINDHOEK, 16 DEC (NAMPA) - Seventy per cent of new diseases which emerged in humans over recent decades are of animal origin and, in part, directly related to the human quest for more animal-sourced food.
This is according to a report titled ‘World Livestock 2013: Changing Disease Landscapes’ issued by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) on Monday.
“Population growth, agricultural expansion and the rise of globe-spanning food supply chains have dramatically altered how diseases emerge, jump species’ boundaries and spread.
But in the push to produce more food, humans have carved out vast swaths of agricultural land in previously wild areas - putting themselves and their animals into contact with wildlife-borne diseases,” it stated.
FAO Assistant Director-General for Agriculture and Consumer Protection, Ren Wang was quoted in the report as saying that the ongoing expansion of agricultural lands into wild areas, coupled with a worldwide boom in livestock production, means that livestock and wildlife are more in contact with each other, and that people are more in contact with animals than ever before.
“What this means is that we cannot deal with human health, animal health and ecosystem health in isolation from each other - we have to look at them together and address the drivers of disease emergence, persistence and spread, rather than simply fighting back against diseases after they emerge,” he stressed.
Ongoing population growth and poverty - coupled with inadequate health systems and sanitation infrastructure - remain major drivers in disease dynamics.
Meanwhile, food safety hazards and antibiotic resistance are also on the increase worldwide.
Globalisation and climate change are redistributing pathogens, vectors and hosts, and pandemic risks to humans caused by pathogens of animal origin present a major concern.
While livestock production provides a number of economic and nutrition benefits, the sector's rapid growth has spawned a number of health-related challenges.
The report identified four main fronts for action: reducing poverty-driven endemic disease burdens in humans and livestock; addressing the biological threats driven by globalisation and climate change; providing safer animal-source food from healthy livestock and agriculture; and preventing disease agents from jumping from wildlife to domestic animals and humans.
In particular, the UN agency said assembling better evidence on the drivers of animal disease must be top priority, and the resulting analyses must focus attention on improving risk assessment and prevention measures.
It further stated that there is a need for stronger mechanisms for the international exchange of information on animal diseases in general, as well as on best practices in livestock-rearing and managing animal health risks within one health framework.