The health of animals and humans are intrinsically linked. Addressing animal diseases can directly improve human health, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Livestock also indirectly contribute to health goals by supporting better livelihoods and therefore better dietary, educational and health choices.
Controlling zoonotic diseases, for example, through comprehensive vaccination, has good returns on investments and important zoonotic diseases have been controlled in high-income countries. Control interventions should prioritize the pathogens in the animal hosts.
Emerging infectious diseases
Controlling and mitigating the risk of emerging infectious diseases requires increased investment in surveillance, diagnostics and vaccines and in research on transmission mechanisms and their mitigation.
Although the large health burden of foodborne diseases is known, in low- and middle-income countries, investments in food safety are a fraction of the investments in comparable health problems and much of this goes to export control, where the burden is least.
Policymakers need better information on the human and economic costs of foodborne diseases in low- and middle-income countries and on investment options for their control. More resources available at the global level should be channelled to low- and middle-income countries that bear the largest foodborne disease burden.
Current food safety regulations and standards in low- and middle-income countries should be risk- and evidence-based rather than rule-based. The private sector should also be encouraged to help improve food safety and ensure stakeholder accountability.
Much larger quantities of antimicrobials, such as antibiotics, are used in animal production than in human health and their use is growing rapidly in emerging economies. Research investments are needed on how, and to what extent, drug-resistant pathogens from antimicrobial use in animal agriculture move to human populations.
The current push to ban use of antimicrobials arises from a ‘precautionary principle’ approach. It is important to ensure that food safety is not endangered by over-zealous reductions in antimicrobial use that will reduce livestock production. Additional research is needed to understand how to best balance these risks.