Monday, November 19, 2007

Growth in animal farming increases disease risks for humans, says FAO

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has issued a serious warning against animal farming, especially intensive animal farming, for its risks to human health in a report entitled Industrial Livestock Production and Global Health Risks, published in September 2007 .

“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,” writes FAO in this policy brief [emphasis added].

Excessive concentration of animals in large scale industrial production units should be avoided, said Joachim Otte, FAO livestock policy expert.

The FAO stresses the reality of the enormous growth in both demand for meat and industrial animal rearing in recent years due to their expansion in Third World countries. In Asia, South America and parts of Africa, traditional animal farming methods are being replaced by intensive ones.

“These developments have potentially serious consequences for local and global disease risks, which, so far, have not been widely recognized by policy makers,” observed Joseph Domenech, FAO Chief Veterinary Officer.

Internationally, pig and poultry productions are the fastest growing and industrializing of all animal farming sectors, and industrial pig and poultry productions depend on a great movement of live animals. The movement of animals and the concentration of a high number of confined animals increases the likelihood of transfer of pathogens (disease-causing agents). In addition, confined animal houses produce a lot of waste, which may contain great quantities of pathogens and is disposed of on land without treatment, posing an infection risk for wild mammals and birds.

The highly pathogenic H5N1 virus is now a major international concern, but the ‘silent’ circulation of influenza A viruses (IAVs) in poultry and pigs should also be closely monitored globally, said FAO. Some IAVs are now widespread in commercial poultry and pigs and could lead to the emergence of a human influenza pandemic.

Although generally speaking this is in no way earth-shattering news in the sense that it’s what the animal rights movement has been saying for decades, it’s interesting to note that the body responsible for issuing these warnings is now a United Nations organization, with no concern for animal equality but purely for human health.

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