FAO urges new measures on animal disease

The United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has outlined measures on how to tackle the growing problem of diseases spreading to human consumers from meat and livestock.

The report, titled World Livestock 2013, found that over the past few decades, 70% of new diseases in humans have originated from animals. The FAO outlined that the growing expansion in agriculture, rise in population and global food supply chains have altered how diseased emerge, jump between species and spread.

"Livestock health is the weakest link in our global health chain. Disease must be addressed at its source - particularly in animals," the report stated.

The report therefore focused on how humans can raise and trade animals differently to ensure diseases are contained.

"In response to human population growth, income increases and urbanization, world food and agriculture has shifted its main focus from the supply of cereals as staples to providing an increasingly protein-rich diet based on livestock and fishery products," the report added.

However, it also showed that the rapid spreading of diseases is not specific to large-scale, intensive systems, but also prevalent in smallholder livestock systems, as these tend to involve animals in relatively high densities roaming freely.

FAO assistant director-general Ren Wang said a new holistic approach to managing disease threats is required in order to curb the problem.

Wang said: "Livestock and wildlife are more in contact with each other, and we ourselves 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."

The FAO outlined four main points that must be improved:

• Reducing poverty-driven endemic disease burdens in humans and livestock  

• Addressing the biological threats driven by globalization and climate change

• Providing safer animal-source food from healthy livestock and agriculture

• Preventing disease agents from jumping from wildlife to domestic animals and humans.

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