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Six Stories from 2017 You Shouldn't Miss

This year has seen new research that quickly changed the way we look at animal health. From the impacts of livestock on climate change to antimicrobial resistance to benefits of pets, it’s been hard to keep up with it all. So, we’ve put together a cheat sheet of five studies you simply shouldn’t miss before the year ends.

1.Don’t expect to reduce AMR without a One Health approach, study finds

A Royal Society study aimed to discover whether cutting the volume of antibiotics consumed by livestock could have public health benefits.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh created a mathematical model to assess the impact of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) reduction strategies on levels of resistant bacteria in humans.

Results revealed that reducing antibiotic use in livestock as a standalone measure has little impact on the level of resistance in humans. In fact, strategies like reducing opportunities for transmission – such as through safer food handling – would be more effective.

The results highlight the importance of avoiding simple AMR solutions and focusing on One Health approaches that examine environmental transmission, human use and animal administration.

2.What would happen if the United States went vegan?

Two researchers from Arizona State University wanted to see what the effects of removing livestock from the US diet, the third largest country in the world, might be in their recent study. So, they built a model to find out.

Currently, livestock provide 24% of energy, 48% of protein, and up to 67% of essential amino acid nutrients in the American diet. Without meat, U.S. agriculture would need to increase legume production 10-fold and nearly triple grain production.

Removing livestock from the equation did cut national carbon emissions by 2.3%, but, with troubling consequences. The plant-only diet reduced intake of key nutrients like vitamins A, D, E, K and B12, along with vital amino acids – all essential building blocks for human development.

3.Animal grain consumption may be grossly exaggerated, says FAO

It is often implied that livestock is an inefficient food source that consume vast swaths of crops, which could be better used for people. This September, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations said ‘not so fast’.

New data from its Animal Production and Health division found that a whopping 86% of food consumed by livestock is not suitable for human consumption. On top of this, livestock provide manure that improves crop production while also being a major source of nutrients like vitamin B12, iron and calcium to people’s diets.

The study also outlined how cattle require just 0.6kg of protein from edible feed to produce 1 kg of protein in milk and meat. “Cattle thus contribute directly to global food security,” said FAO.

4.Decade of data shows no overlap between E. Coli resistance in Humans and Animal

After reviewing ten years’ worth of data and 27,000 samples, Dutch researchers could not find a link between resistant E. coli animals and people in the general population, according to a study published this September.

The team, led by the Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences at Utrecht University, successfully mapped resistant E. coli across human and animal populations in a ‘One Health’ approach. They examined how resistant infections moved across clinical settings, through the general population and within farms.

They found that antibiotic resistant E. coli genes in the general population and in animals were unique, with no ‘close epidemiological linkage’ between the two. This suggests that resistant E. coli in people could not have originated from animals. 

5.Could carbon-neutral cattle be the future for beef?

Early results from a study that is investigating the ability of grass-fed cattle to trap carbon could transform our understanding of beef production.

Associate Professor Jason Rowntree at Michigan State University is examining this concept of carbon sequestration, specifically in relation to the ability of grass-fed cattle to rebuild soils and lock carbon away.

Preliminary results show that the cattle in the grazing experiment were able to sequester more than three metric tonnes of carbon annually per hectare. This process could effectively make greenhouse gas-producing animals carbon-neutral, or even carbon negative.

The study is still being completed but the results could upend public perceptions of sustainable beef production.

6. Could dogs detect early signs of Parkinson’s disease?

Scientists are hoping to build on the success of canine cancer detection as work begins on a study to discover whether dogs are able to identify subtle changes in the smell of people with Parkinson’s disease.

Manchester University and research charity Medical Detection Dogs have joined together to investigate whether dogs can detect the disease merely through smelling people’s skin swabs. The research was inspired by a woman with an acute sense of smell who claimed she detected a change in her husband six years before he was diagnosed with the condition.

It’s hoped that detection dogs could help speed up diagnosis to enable earlier initiation of otherwise-ineffective treatments to improve outcomes.