Global animal food production is undergoing a major transformation
that could lead to a higher risk of disease transmission from
animals to humans, FAO warned this week.
“The risk of disease transmission from animals to humans
will increase in the future due to human and livestock population
growth, dynamic changes in livestock production, the emergence
of worldwide agro-food networks and a significant increase in the
mobility of people and goods,” FAO said in a policy brief
(Industrial Livestock Production and Global Health Risks).
“There is no doubt that the world has to depend upon some of the
technologies of intensive animal food production systems,” said
FAO livestock policy expert Joachim Otte.
“But excessive concentration of animals in large scale industrial
production units should be avoided and adequate investments should be
made in heightened biosecurity and improved disease monitoring to safeguard
public health,” he added.
More affluence – higher meat consumption
As countries have become more affluent and the world's population continues
to rise, demand for meat and other livestock products has grown substantially,
according to FAO.
To satisfy this higher demand for meat products, livestock production
and densities have significantly increased, often close to urban centres.
Industrial animal production has become more concentrated, using fewer
but more productive livestock breeds.
“These developments have potentially serious consequences for
local and global disease risks, which, so far, have not been widely recognized
by policy makers,” said FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech.
Pigs and poultry first
Globally, pig and poultry production are the fastest growing and industrializing
livestock sub-sectors, with annual production growth rates of 2.6 and
3.7 percent over the past decade.
As a consequence, in the industrialized countries, the vast majority
of chickens and turkeys are now produced in houses with 15 000 to 50
000 birds. The trend towards industrialization of livestock production
can also be observed in developing countries, where traditional systems
are being replaced by intensive units, most notably in Asia, South America
and parts of Africa.
Industrial pig and poultry production relies on a significant movement
of live animals. In 2005, for example, nearly 25 million pigs, more than
two million pigs per month, were traded internationally.
The movement of animals and the concentration of thousands of confined
animals increase the likelihood of transfer of pathogens. Furthermore,
confined animal houses produce large amounts of waste, which may contain
substantial quantities of pathogens. Much of this waste is disposed of
on land without any treatment, posing an infection risk for wild mammals
While the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus is currently of major global
concern, the ‘silent’ circulation of influenza A viruses
(IAVs) in poultry and swine should also be closely monitored internationally,
FAO said. A number of IAVs are now fairly widespread in commercial poultry
and to a lesser extent in pigs and could also lead to emergence of a
human influenza pandemic.
FAO called upon meat producers to apply basic biosecurity measures.
Production sites should not be built close to human settlements or wild
bird populations; farms should be regularly cleaned and disinfected;
the movements of staff and vehicles should be controlled and employees
should be trained in biosecurity.
FAO, in association with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE)
and the World Health Organization (WHO), is responding to these global
threats through surveillance and research networks for early detection
of animal diseases and better scientific cooperation between countries.
FAO has also established an emergency management centre that supports
countries in responding to animal disease outbreaks.
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