The detection of links between animal production systems around the world, climate change and the evolution of animal diseases were the main topics of a World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) meeting held last week.
“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 Gideon Brückner from South Africa, who chaired the group of experts.
The experts listed some of the positive effects of livestock production:
- 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 ecosystems, contributing to the sequestration of carbon and nitrogen derivatives, biodiversity and favorable management of water in the riverside 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 fertilizer produced by animals. These natural fertilizers are often a good substitute for synthetic fertilizers.
However, the experts emphasized that any analysis of these benefits should always be conducted in parallel with an analysis of the disadvantages such as greenhouse gas emissions notably from ruminants.
The experts also emphasized the importance of research to develop and apply methods to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Food security and the importance of animals in society
Livestock production is a major component of food security, according to the experts. 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.)
Climate change and emerging or re-emerging diseases
Human impact on the environment and climate change are not without consequences for the evolution of certain pathogens capable of causing animal and 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” said Vallat, OIE director general.
To that end the OIE supports its member countries by helping them to strengthen their veterinary services. Throughout the world, these services are in the frontline, alongside livestock producers, to ensure early detection and rapid response.
The OIE also urges the development of research programes aimed at devising environmentally friendly animal production systems and suitable biosecurity methods to ensure better disease prevention and control.