Reports: How Better Animal Health Supports Sustainable Food Systems
Over 1.3 billion people rely upon livestock for their lives and livelihoods. This contributes 40% of agricultural GDP in many countries, while supplying protein and important micronutrients to diets. However, our ability to sustainably raise livestock is being tested by rising populations and climate change.
Maintaining the value of livestock, while protecting our environment and safeguarding rural livelihoods, is an essential task and better protection of livestock health must be part of any sustainability strategy.
Protecting the health of livestock herds and flocks ensures the over 1 billion livestock farmers worldwide can continue to earn a living, while providing a pathway out of poverty for millions of smallholders across the globe.
When livestock are protected against disease, their carbon emissions are lower, while less land and natural resources are required. A recent United Nations report stated, “there is growing evidence that addressing specific diseases and health conditions in livestock can play a crucial role in reducing GHG emissions.”1https://www.fao.org/3/cc9029en/cc9029en.pdf
Hunger and malnutrition affects hundreds of millions of people across the globe. Healthier livestock means more milk, meat and eggs entering the food supply that can provide more people with a nutritious diet.
Healthy livestock support sustainability societies, helping foster an economically strong farming sector, a well-protected environment and a population free from hunger. This will help our world deliver in areas like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) each country has in the Paris Climate Agreement.
Increasing adoption of animal health tools like vaccination, biosecurity, diagnostics, digital technologies and more will be crucial in delivering better health for animals. Furthermore, increasing global veterinary capacity will help ensure the necessary knowledge is available for implementation. While the sustainability challenge ahead is large, animal health offers a proven pathway for delivering positive outcomes
Animal diseases are a preventable threat to livelihoods and growth. Keeping animals healthy protects economic sustainability.
Billions rely on the livestock sector for their livelihoods
Women make up 43 percent of the global agricultural labour force5https://www.fao.org/reduce-rural-poverty/our-work/women-in-agriculture/en/
Rural women represent 2/3rds of the world’s poor livestock keepers6https://www.fao.org/gender/learning-center/thematic-areas/gender-and-livestock/1/
The livestock sector accounts for8https://www.fao.org/animal-production/en
of agriculture output in developed markets
Animal disease hurts livelihoods and economies
Animal diseases have both direct and indirect economic effects. Direct costs include immediate impacts on livestock populations and agriculture, while indirect costs include reductions in trade and other revenues.
Spotlight: Costs of Animal Disease
Preventing disease increases productivity and farmer incomes
Globally, when 60% of the world’s beef cattle are vaccinated in a given year, this is associated with a 52.6% increase in beef production.16https://healthforanimals.org/reports/animal-health-and-sustainability/
Vaccinating pigs against classical swine fever (CSF) allows them to reach slaughter weight 8–9 days earlier than those suffering from the disease. This means lower production costs for the producer.19https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8070377/#sec3-vaccines-09-00381title
Vaccinating against Newcastle disease in backyard poultry systems on smallholder farms in Uganda resulted in an 80% increase in egg production in a recent study.20https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167587719301692
Animal health is directly connected with environmental health. Livestock suffering from disease are less productive and require more resources, all of which have negative impacts on the environment.
Sick animals have a larger environmental footprint
More resources are required to maintain livestock productivity when diseases are prevalent. Every kilo of milk, meat or eggs lost to illness means additional resources must be invested elsewhere to meet consumer demands.
Better livestock health means lower emissions and land use
Disease prevention is one of the most effective ways to improve the sustainability of livestock production. Healthier animals produce more meat, milk and eggs, allowing farmers to meet demand with fewer animals and limiting the need for expansion onto untouched lands.
Country Spotlight: Effects of Disease Control on Emissions25https://www.fao.org/3/cc0431en/cc0431en.pdf/
Controlling for trichomoniasis led to a
decrease in emissions
Vaccinating against East Coast Fever led to a
decrease in emissions
Deworming cattle led to a
decrease in emissions
Controlling for mastitis led to a
decrease in emissions
Vaccination reduces land use26https://healthforanimals.org/resources/publications/publications/animal-health-and-sustainability-a-global-data-analysis-summary/
Vaccination reduces livestock emissions
Vaccination is one of the primary methods for preventing disease and reducing emissions in livestock production. A recent study found controlling disease in livestock systems could reduce GHG emissions by as much as:27https://onehealthoutlook.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s42522-023-00089-y
United Nations Recommends Animal Health as a Climate Solution
Recent reports from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) have evaluated how livestock production can help bridge global nutrition gaps, while simultaneously reducing emissions. The two most impactful solutions were increasing productivity and better animal health.
Increased productivity and improved animal health can reduce global livestock emissions by 30%, according to a recent UN report.28FAO, Pathways to lower emissions, Table 3, https://www.fao.org/3/cc9029en/cc9029en.pdf
FAO’s Roadmap for sustainable agrifood systems found ‘prioritizing animal health is essential’29https://www.fao.org/interactive/sdg2-roadmap/assets/3d-models/inbrief-roadmap.pdf
Healthier livestock means higher productivity and a sustainable, reliable food supply for people across the world.
Animal disease leads to higher human hunger levels
The prevalence of animal diseases in livestock contributes to higher hunger levels as infections reduce the productivity of meat, milk and eggs, on which many communities depend on for their livelihoods and for food.
Poultry disease was associated with a 2.0% increase in global hunger in 2018 and 5.0% in 2019.
This is equivalent to global hunger increasing by 13.6 million people in 2018 and 34.39 million in 2019.30https://healthforanimals.org/reports/animal-health-and-sustainability
20% of livestock production is lost to disease each year.
These losses are equivalent to:31https://healthforanimals.org/reports/animal-health-and-sustainability
An outbreak of avian influenza in Mexico in 2012 led to a shortage of eggs that drove up prices by 82% with inflated prices lasting for three years.32https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1467-8489.12387
Healthy livestock can strengthen food and nutrition security
Healthy livestock can help support a sustainable food supply, provide for affordable nutrition, and help millions of malnourished people realize their full potential.
Two billion worldwide suffer deficiencies in the micronutrients readily available in meat, milk and eggs, and 148 million children are stunted from malnutrition.33http://www.fao.org/3/i8384en/I8384EN.pdf,34https://www.fao.org/3/cc3017en/online/state-food-security-and-nutrition-2023/executive-summary.html
Healthy animals → healthy people → more sustainable world
The data is clear. Better animal health means higher productivity, lower emissions and fewer people going hungry. Healthy animals are a cornerstone of sustainable food systems
- 28FAO, Pathways to lower emissions, Table 3, https://www.fao.org/3/cc9029en/cc9029en.pdf