Look about. A diverse world of animals surrounds you. That urgent hum you hear is the sound of 24 billion chickens, more than a billion cattle and sheep, three-quarters of a billion pigs and goats, a half billion dogs, 400 million cats, and more, populating an already increasingly crowded planet. A portrait of the humans those animals depend upon—and vice-versa—includes an equally diverse range of faces: affluent North American dog owners who say they would spend equally to satisfy their pets’ and their children’s medical needs. Asian poultry farmers who earn for an entire year’s work, less than a quarter of the cost just to feed that dog. European breeders of a €77,000 bull or a prize-winning racehorse earning more than €12 million a year to sire foals. Small farm stakeholders in developing nations whose milk-goat pen represents the sum of a tiny but critical family fortune. Every day, humans rely upon that universe of animals to provide food and fibre, companionship and convenience, draught power and diversion, transportation and therapy.
And in spite of the vast differences in geography, language, culture, economics and attitude, we all depend upon a more and more specialised group of animal health care providers capable of meeting those divergent needs and growing expectations. On average, the world spends only about one-fortieth of the sum it devotes to human medicines on medicines to care for its animals. Yet that investment underwrites the discovery, development, manufacture, distribution, support and education of a system focused on a nearly universal goal: to make the world healthier for people by improving the health of the animals around them. Even in their natural state, animals can, and often do, need medicines. No matter how animals are tended, from posh apartment living for pets to high-tech, quarantined livestock barns for turkeys, to open-range grazing for cattle, animals benefit from today’s medicinal products through better health. And better health forms an integral part of animal welfare.
But it’s easy to overlook the equally productive results of the animal health system during the past half century. Of the nearly 1,500 infectious diseases we know affect people, it’s believed almost two-thirds can pass between animals and people—and three out of four emerging infectious diseases have come to humans courtesy of their animal globe-mates. That sobering reality of biology makes dependable veterinary medicines not simply an indulgent luxury, but a necessity to prevent life-threatening disease in humans. In addition, it’s now being demonstrated that employing well-targeted vaccinations and medications to maintain healthier animals on farms and ranches also helps guard people from diseases.
And finally, our world is expected to shelter, feed and support 9 billion people by the mid-21st century. Doing that will require 100 percent more animal protein than it takes today. Innovative animal health technologies will be an indispensable part of not only ensuring food remains abundant and affordable, but also helping to lift the world’s poor out of chronic poverty, where two-thirds rely on livestock as their main source of both food and income—all while helping conserve scarce resources. In more ways than one, healthier animals mean healthier people.
But need we take shortcuts to meet those demands, as some might suggest? On the contrary. In fact, the industry that drives the animal health revolution is more regulated today than at any time in its history, and it can often face even higher hurdles than human medical manufacturers. Both before and after any product is brought to market, veterinary product manufacturers are required to demonstrate it is safe for the health of animals, people and the environment. In truth, the regulatory burden has grown so heavy that it now actually threatens the ability to economically provide animal health care–particularly where it is needed most acutely, in the developing world. Veterinary medicines are an indispensable tool in the prevention and treatment of animal disease. Equally important is the basic health research and technical information placed in the hands of veterinarians and farmers to not only optimize the benefits of medications, but also improve their management and stewardship of the animals they care for. Altogether, their contribution to animal health and the supply of safe, high quality food for consumption by the world’s growing population is crucial. The animal health industry is dedicated to the continued development of these products, and to its role in the global supply of safe, healthy food, healthy animals and a healthier world.