What Can Be Done to Manage Catastrophic Human Disease Threats from Farmed Animals?

Peter Wallace Daniels


Abstract: Society might expect that animals farmed to meet the food security needs of people globally won’t pose a serious public health threat. Experience indicates the situation is otherwise. The Nipah virus outbreak in Malaysia was incomprehensible at the time. Farm workers became sick and died with a case fatality rate of 50% from a disease caught from the pigs on farms; a risk unheard of previously. Fortunately Nipah was not contagious among people. Analyses of pandemic H1N1 2009 influenza in people indicate that it too arose in intensively farmed animals, and it did spread quickly among people globally. Fortunately infections were not usually lethal. The bird flus, H5N1 and H7N9, have high human case fatality rates but are not contagious. None-the-less, intensively farmed animals are building up quite a record as a source of undesirable human diseases. The emergence of the next outbreak is unpredictable, as are its essential characteristics: pathogenicity and transmissibility. The animal health sector should deliver systems of diagnosis, surveillance and control of infections in animal populations. Farming businesses should recognize and understand responsibilities to monitor and know the infection status of their animal populations with respect to disease threats to food security, farming profitability and human health. This would be good risk management. However routine surveillance of farmed animal populations for any such infections does not occur. Usually investigations start in response to outbreaks. Real time monitoring is not part of the farming business model. The technical capacity exists and is getting cheaper but there is perceived to be an unwillingness to undertake comprehensive surveillance. A better understanding throughout the whole of society – political, scientific and popular – is needed. Farmers, traders, industry managers, regulators, consumers all have to want to manage the threat of infections on farms, to value it and to pay for it.


pandemic threats; surveillance; human behaviour; business model change; One Health; Food Security

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