Surge in animal-human diseases calls for more holistic approach to health, UN reports

A orker collects eggs at a poultry farm outside Cairo, Egypt. FAO/Giulo Napolitano

16 December 2013 – About 70 per cent of new diseases infecting humans in recent decades have come from animals, the United Nations food agency today reported, warning that it is getting easier for diseases jump species and spread as the population, agriculture and food-supply chains grow.

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, UN Food and Agricultural Organization (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.

According to the report, ‘World Livestock 2013: Changing Disease Landscapes,’ a new, more holistic approach to managing disease threats is needed.

Since the 1940’s, a majority of the infectious diseases that have emerged in humans since the 1940s can be traced back to wildlife.

For instance, it is likely that the SARS virus emerging in humans was first transmitted by bats to masked palm civets and eventually spilled over to humans via animal markets.

In other cases, the opposite occurs - livestock introduce pathogens into natural areas, affecting wildlife health.

The report focuses on how changes in the way humans raise and trade animals have affected how diseases emerge and spread.

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. Meanwhile, food safety hazards and antibiotic resistance are on the increase worldwide.


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