F.A.O.: Livestock concentration a health concern

by Keith Nunes
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ROME — Increased concern about the risk of disease transmission from animals to humans has prompted the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (F.A.O.) to issue a report highlighting the potential threats livestock concentration may pose to public health.

"The risk of disease transmission from animals to humans will increase in the future due to human and livestock population growth, dynamic changes in livestock production, the emergence of worldwide agro-food networks and a significant increase in the mobility of people and goods, according to the F.A.O.’s report Industrial Livestock Production and Global Health Risk.

"There is no doubt that the world has to depend upon some of the technologies of intensive animal food production systems," said Joachim Otte, the F.A.O.’s livestock policy expert. "But excessive concentration of animals in large scale industrial production units should be avoided and adequate investments should be made in heightened biosecurity and improved disease monitoring to safeguard public health."

Pig and poultry production are the fastest growing and industrializing livestock sub-sectors, with annual production growth rates of 2.6% and 3.7% over the past decade, according to the report. As a consequence, in industrialized countries, the majority of chickens and turkeys are now produced in houses with 15,000 to 50,000 birds.

Industrial pig and poultry production also rely on a significant movement of live animals. In 2005, for example, nearly 25 million pigs, more than 2 million pigs per month, were traded internationally. The movement of animals and the concentration of thousands of confined animals increase the likelihood of transfer of pathogens. In addition, confined animal houses produce large amounts of waste, which may contain substantial quantities of pathogens. Much of this waste is disposed of on land without any treatment, posing an infection risk for wild mammals and birds.

The report’s authors note that while the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus of avian influenza is of major global concern, the "silent" circulation of influenza "A" viruses (I.A.V.s) in poultry and swine also should be closely monitored internationally. A number of I.A.V.s are now fairly widespread in commercial poultry and to a lesser extent in pigs and could also lead to emergence of a human influenza pandemic, the F.A.O. said.

The group called upon meat producers to apply biosecurity measures, and stressed that production sites should not be built close to human settlements or wild bird populations; farms should be regularly cleaned and disinfected; the movements of staff and vehicles should be controlled and employees should be trained in biosecurity.

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