Dramatic changes in global meat production could increase risk of human diseases – UN

17 September 2007

Global animal food production is undergoing a major transformation that could lead to a higher risk of disease transmission from animals to humans, and excessive concentration of animals in intensive production systems should be avoided, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today.

Global animal food production is undergoing a major transformation that could lead to a higher risk of disease transmission from animals to humans, and excessive concentration of animals in intensive production systems should be avoided, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today.

“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 on 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 bio-security and improved disease monitoring to safeguard public health,” he added.

To satisfy higher demand for meat as the world’s population continues to rise, 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,” FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech said.

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 per cent over the past decade. In industrialized countries, the vast majority of chickens and turkeys are now produced in houses with 15,000 to 50,000 birds. This trend can also be observed in developing countries 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 2 million pigs per month, were traded internationally. This movement and the concentration of thousands of confined animals increase the likelihood of transfer of pathogens. Confined animal houses also 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 and birds.

While the highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu 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.

The agency called on producers to apply basic bio-security 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 bio-security.

FAO, in association with the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the intergovernmental World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), is tackling 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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