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Animal Production, Climate Change and Diseases

by 5m Editor
3 September 2010, at 10:24a.m.

GLOBAL - The detection of links between animal production systems around the world, climate change and the epidemiological evolution of animal diseases was the focus of a meeting organised by the OIE with experts from several continents.

“The experts confirmed that there are correlations between the various factors linking animal production systems, human influence on the environment, climate change and emerging diseases, but they reaffirmed that these correlations involve mechanisms of very great complexity, making them extremely difficult to measure and the value of any forecasts most uncertain”, declared Dr Gideon Brückner from South Africa, who chaired the group of experts.

The experts listed some of the positive effects of livestock farming, including:

  • The recycling of plants and the conversion of solar energy to animal products with high added value through the consumption of plants by herbivores;

  • The numerous herbivore production systems which help to maintain sylvopastoral ecosystems, contributing to the sequestration of carbon and nitrogen derivatives, biodiversity and favourable management of water in the river side basins concerned;

  • The contribution of these farming methods to maintaining an open landscape.

They also mentioned other positive aspects requiring more detailed research, such as the advantages of the natural organic fertiliser that the animals produce. These natural fertilisers are often in fact a good substitute for synthetic fertilisers produced by industrial chemistry.

However, the experts emphasised that any analysis of these benefits should always be conducted in parallel with an analysis of the disadvantages, weighing the benefits against the negative effects, for example greenhouse gas emissions such as methane and nitrous oxide, notably from ruminants.

The group of experts also emphasised the importance of research to develop and apply methods to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Food security and the important place of animals in society

Animal production is a major component of food security. Products of animal origin such as milk, eggs and meat contain precious nutrients and are an inherent part of any worldwide food security policy: worldwide demand for these products is rising and is set to increase substantially.

Livestock farming also supplies other essential non-food products, such as wool and leather, as well as important services such as transport (throughout the world some 250 million animals are working in place of fossil energy-based machines.)

Domestic animals also represent a means of subsistence with no feasible alternative for hundreds of millions of families around the world. It is estimated that one billion people, 700 million of them poor, are dependent on their animals for food, income or draught power.

Climate change and emerging or re-emerging diseases

Human impact on the environment and climate change are not without consequences for the epidemiological evolution of certain pathogens capable of causing animal and/or human diseases. We are currently witnessing an acceleration of the emergence or re-emergence of unexpected epidemiological events. For example, at least one new disease appears every year.

The OIE experts recommended investing even more in research to confirm or rule out causal links between climate change and emerging or re-emerging diseases.

“For a number of years the OIE has been implementing policies aimed at helping its Member Countries to be better prepared for the consequences of intensified animal production. The aim is to meet world demand and to be prepared to deal with new epidemiological events, most of which are related to human-caused environmental changes,” stated Dr Vallat, Director General of THE OIE.

To that end the OIE supports its Member Countries by helping them to strengthen their Veterinary Services through a procedure known as the PVS (Performance of Veterinary Services). Throughout the world, these Services are in the frontline, alongside animal producers, to ensure early detection and rapid response to deal with sanitary events presenting a threat to animals and humans.

The OIE also urges the unremitting development of research programmes aimed at devising environmentally friendly animal production systems and, in parallel, suitable biosecurity methods to ensure better disease prevention and control.