Rising Number Of Livestock Diseases Threatens Public Health, Food Security In Developing Countries, Report Says

“A growing number of livestock, such as cows and pigs, are fuelling new animal epidemics worldwide and posing more severe problems in developing countries as it threatens their food security, according to a report [.pdf] released on Friday” during an international conference in New Delhi, India, on Leveraging Agriculture for Improving Nutrition & Health, Reuters reports (Lyn, 2/11).

“The new assessments from ILRI [International Livestock Research Institute] spell out how livestock diseases present ‘double trouble’ in poor countries,” according to an article on ILRI’s website. “First, livestock diseases imperil food security in the developing world (where some 700 million people keep farm animals and up to 40 percent of household income depends on them) by reducing the availability of a critical source of protein. Second, animal diseases also threaten human health directly when viruses such as the bird flu (H5N1), SARS and Nipah viruses ‘jump’ from their livestock hosts into human populations,” the article states.

Although developed countries “are effectively dealing with livestock diseases, … in Africa and Asia, the capacity of veterinary services to track and control outbreaks is lagging dangerously behind livestock intensification,” ILRI Deputy Director John McDermott said, according to the release. “This lack of capacity is particularly dangerous because many poor people in the world still rely on farm animals to feed their families, while rising demand for meat, milk and eggs among urban consumers in the developing world is fueling a rapid intensification of livestock production,” he added (2/10).

“Animals seem to be the main source of new infectious disease in man: in general around 60% of human pathogens are transmissible from animals; among new diseases, the rate is about 75%,” The Economist writes in an article that examines growing concerns in India over emerging infectious diseases that threaten both livestock and humans alike. “As rural populations in India and elsewhere expand, grow richer and eat more protein, backyards where a few chickens or pigs once scratched have become densely packed smallholdings of several dozen animals. These bring owners more wealth, but also hygiene and veterinary problems. … Smallholdings near or in urban areas may be especially vulnerable,” the magazine writes.

As The Economist writes, “[t]hese worries are not new.” However, “researchers in Delhi argue that policymakers and farmers, keen to boost food supply, give too little thought to the threats to public health.” McDermott and report co-author “Delia Grace [also of ILRI] … estimate that the world contains 450m smallholder farmers. Where these are most numerous, notably in Asia, they create ‘hot spots’, where a huge amount of germs circulate among thriving livestock and human populations, especially near cities,” the magazine adds (2/10).

McDermott and Grace also noted the economic cost of zoonotic diseases in their report, Reuters writes. “Epidemics like SARS in 2003, sporadic outbreaks of the H5N1 avian flu since 1997 and the H1N1 swine flu pandemic of 2009 racked up enormous economic costs around the world. … While SARS cost between $50 billion to $100 billion, the report cited a World Bank estimate in 2010 which pinned the potential costs of an avian flu pandemic at $3 trillion,” according to the news service (2/11).

Kenya Broadcasting Corporation News adds that the “[r]esearchers are now urging for the establishment of surveillance systems that are able to detect animal disease outbreaks in their earliest stages in order to effectively contain an outbreak” (Akolo, 2/11).

The International Food Policy Research Institute conference drew together experts in agriculture, nutrition and health from around the world to discuss “ways to increase agriculture’s contribution to better nutrition and health for the world’s most vulnerable people,” according to the ILRI article (2/10).

The conference website features remarks by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered by video, where she addressed the U.S.’ involvement in addressing world hunger: “The United States is committed to this fight. By investing in drought-tolerant and vitamin-rich crops through our Feed the Future Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative, … by providing micronutrients to pregnant women and children through our Global Health Initiative and also by helping nutrition champions implement country-led solutions thru the One Thousand Days, a global movement to improve maternal and child nutrition,” Clinton said. “We are working closely with our partners, including other countries, multilateral organizations, NGOs, and research centers worldwide,” she said (2/11).

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