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Why we’re thankful for good animal health

We humans rely on livestock to survive; they provide us with nutritious food and contribute to the incomes of over a billion people around the world. Animals can also become sick and, in some cases, that illness can spread to people.

Our lives and health, are intrinsically linked to animals. We have a responsibility to protect their good health and welfare.

We take a look at five reasons to celebrate good animal health and why we need to be thankful for the veterinarians, researchers and farmers who help to safeguard animal well-being and in so doing, human health too.

1. Nutrition for a growing population

Milk, meat, fish and eggs are some of the most nutritionally dense food we have access to. Just one large egg provides more than 10 vitamins and minerals, including disease fighting nutrients and important fats and iron. Comparable nourishment is difficult to access from other food sources, such as vegetables and grains.

Today, 161 million children under the age of five lack the nutrients they require for development. The International Livestock Research Institute estimates that by improving animal health and access to livestock-derived foods, we could begin to end this.

2. Safeguarding human health around the world

There are believed to be 150 zoonotic diseases in the world, these are illnesses that pass from human to animal and vice-versa, such as rabies, influenza and Ebola, among many others.

In addition, two thirds of emerging infectious diseases originate in animals. It illustrates that the health of humans, animals and the environment are like three overlapping circles, they all impact one another.

Without the help of veterinarians, researchers and farmers working to keep animals healthy, the risk of infection to humans would be overwhelming.

3. Supporting the livelihoods of smallholder farmers

Livestock production supports almost 1.3 billion people worldwide – that’s almost one in every five people globally.

Smallholder farmers, the majority of that 1.3 billion, are often totally reliant on their animals for income and vital nourishment. In fact, traditional livestock systems contribute to the livelihoods of 70% of the world’s rural poor.

For example, in some parts of East Africa, the health of farming families is directly dependent on the health of their livestock. Without their animals, it could mean the family can’t afford to send the children to school or can’t access enough nutrient-rich food.

4. Reducing environmental pressures

Maintaining good animal health not only enhances the health of humans but our environment too. Sick animals are unproductive, so by taking a proactive approach to animal well-being we can reduce emissions from livestock.

In fact, according to the FAO, if all famers were to simply adopt existing best practices in health and husbandry – like vaccination and regular veterinary visits — emissions from livestock could be slashed by 30%.

Working to good health standards helps to improve the animal’s ability to breed, put on weight and, in the case of dairy cows, produce more milk.

More productive animals, may even allow for a reduction in the number of animals needed on farm, and therefore the amount of emissions produced. This would be particularly powerful in the case of herds of cattle, which require a lot of feed and land and contribute the majority of emissions from livestock.

5. Healthy animals reduce the need for antibiotics

Collectively, the world needs to use antibiotics responsibly across both animal and human health, if we are to manage antimicrobial resistance.

When we produce healthy animals with strong immunity to disease, giving them quality feed, using prevention techniques such as vaccinations, and housing them in suitable conditions, they are less likely to become sick and need antibiotics to get them back to good health.

By preserving antibiotics only in those cases when we need them the most, we can ensure that they remain effective now and for future generations.

Progress within animal health remains a constant, sometimes carving the way for pioneering treatment in the human health sector. We rely on good animal health for so much, it should never be underestimated.

Check out these amazing facts which show the critical role of livestock in our world.