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EUROTIER - German Vets Consider Climate Change Impacts

by 5m Editor
22 November 2010, at 3:19pm

GERMANY - At the International Animal Health Event 2010, held in conjunction with EuroTier 2010, a senior FAO official gave an overview of the possible effects of climate change on animal health, writes Jackie Linden, editor of ThePoultrySite.

The opening of the bpt (Bundesverband Praktizierender Tierärzte e.V. – Federal Association of Practising Veterinarians) was arranged to coincide with EuroTier 2010 in Hanover, Germany, last week. The evening event was jointly organised with the EuroTier organisers (DLG) and the Foundation of the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover. The opening address was made by Dr Hans-Joachim Götz, President of the bpt.

The main address of the evening event was given by Dr Alexander Müller, Assistant Director-General Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome.

He introduced his topic – 'Feeding a growing world population under condition of climate change – what are the relevant animal health aspects?' – explaining that it is a huge subject area to cover in the time allowed.

The drivers of change, Dr Müller said, are growth in the human population, urbanisation as well as changing life-styles and consumption habits of a human population expected to exceed nine billion by the year 2050 from the current 6.3 billion.

On human population growth, he explained, the rate of increase is expected to be higher in poorer countries, such as sub-Saharan Africa. In Europe, by contrast, a fall in the population is predicted.

The move of the population to the cities is expected to accelerate. Right now, the world's rural and urban populations are roughly equal, explained Dr Müller. However, in future, while the rural population will remain more or less constant, while the number of people in the cities will rise and quickly. This too has impacts on animal health.

Consumption habits are also expected to change over the coming decades, with rising incomes leading to the greater consumption of animal products.

Dr Müller pointed out that all these trends will affect particularly the emerging countries, citing the examples of the rise in soybean exports from Brazil and Argentina and how China is likely to become a significant importer of feed ingredients.

Turning to climate change, Dr Müller said that even the most pessimistic of the early predictions about climate change may turn out to be optimistic, as a 4°C increase in average global temperature is now expected. And the situation amy be exacerbated by the fact that many of the more densely populated parts of the world are in developing countries where population growth will be fastest and where extreme climatic events are more likely.

Dr Müller went on to give four examples of animal diseases that are emerging threats linked to climate change: the tiger mosquito, bluetongue disease, Rift Valley Fever and tick-borne encephalitis. These all originated in tropical areas and have spread (or threaten to spread) to Europe. The tiger mosquito, for example, originated in Japan and in 2007, there was an outbreak of disease in Italy as the result of the infection of a traveller from India.

For bluetongue disease, it appears that serotype 8 may have come from Africa to the EU in a consignment of flowers. Dr Müller said: "Bluetongue is now endemic in Europe," as the virus has been spread by other mosquitoes across northern Europe.

Rift Valley Fever is thought to have originated in Kenya, where outbreaks appear to be linked to unusual flooding. In 2007-2008, hundreds of thousands of people across East Africa became infected and hundreds died. European medical authorities have identified several mosquitoes in Europe that may be capable of transmitting the infection.

Dr Müller's final example was tick-borne encephalitis. He warned that increases in global trade and population density may also bring this disease to Europe.

Summing up, he said that the world faces continuous population growth, urbanisation, climate change and high population concentration. With growing trade and climate change, viruses and vectors will travel further and find it easier to settle in new environments. He stressed that this is the result not only of climate change but many other interacting factors.

And finally, he stressed that even with the many scenarios proposed, it is impossible to foresee which one will become a reality.

"But something is going to happen and we need to be ready for it," Dr Müller concluded.