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Livestock Fueling New Epidemics Around The World

February 11, 2011

According to a report released on Friday, a growing number of livestock are fueling new animal epidemics around the world and posing more severe problems in developing countries as it threatens their food security.

Epidemics in recent years, like SARS and the H1N1 swine flu, are estimated to have caused billions of dollars in economic costs.

The report by the International Livestock Research Institute said that about 700 million people keep farm animals in developing countries and these animals generate up to 40 percent of household income.

“Wealthy countries are effectively dealing with livestock diseases, but in Africa and Asia, the capacity of veterinary services to track and control outbreaks is lagging dangerously behind livestock intensification,” John McDermott and Delia Grace at the Nairobi-based institute said in a statement on the report.

“This lack of capacity is particularly dangerous because many poor people in the world still rely on farm animals to feed their families, while rising demand for meat, milk and eggs among urban consumers in the developing world is fueling a rapid intensification of livestock production.”

They said that 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases originate in animals.  Sixty-one percent of these are transmissible between animals and humans.

“A new disease emerges every four months; many are trivial but HIV, SARS and avian influenza (eg. H5N1) illustrate the huge potential impacts,” McDermott and Grace wrote in the report.

Epidemics like SARS in 2003, outbreaks of the H5N1 avian flu since 1997 and the H1N1 swine flu pandemic of 2009 racked up enormous costs around the world.

While SARS costs between $50 billion to $100 billion, the report cited a World Bank estimate in 2010, which pinned the potential costs of an avian flu pandemic at $3 trillion.

The report said that rapid urbanization and climate change could act as “wild cards,” altering the present distribution of diseases.

Two researchers urged developing countries to improve animal disease surveillance and speed up testing procedures to help contain livestock epidemics before they become widespread.

Image Courtesy ILRI/Stevie Mann

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