FAO: Animal disease surge requires new approach to health

Report says focus on root causes and prevention of diseases of animal origin needed.

Population growth, agricultural expansion and the rise of globe-spanning food supply chains have dramatically altered how diseases emerge, jump species boundaries and spread, according to a report the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) released Dec. 16. A new, more holistic approach to managing disease threats at the animal-human-environment interface is needed, FAO argued.

Seventy percent of the new diseases that have emerged in humans over recent decades are of animal origin and, in part, directly related to the human quest for more animal-sourced food, according to the report, "World Livestock 2013: Changing Disease Landscapes."

The ongoing expansion of agricultural lands into wild areas, coupled with a worldwide boom in livestock production, means that "livestock and wildlife are more in contact with each other, and we ourselves are more in contact with animals than ever before," said Ren Wang, FAO assistant director-general for agriculture and consumer protection.

"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," he added.

FAO said its new report provides a number of compelling reasons for taking a new tack on disease emergence.

Developing countries face a staggering burden of human, zoonotic and livestock diseases, the report says, creating a major impediment to development and food safety. Recurrent epidemics in livestock affect food security, livelihoods and national and local economies in poor and rich countries alike.

Meanwhile, food safety hazards and antibiotic resistance are on the increase worldwide, FAO said, adding that globalization and climate change are redistributing pathogens, vectors and hosts, and pandemic risks to humans caused by pathogens of animal origin present a major concern.

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