, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 58-70
Date: 13 May 2009

Industrial Food Animal Production and Global Health Risks: Exploring the Ecosystems and Economics of Avian Influenza

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Many emerging infectious diseases in human populations are associated with zoonotic origins. Attention has often focused on wild animal reservoirs, but most zoonotic pathogens of recent concern to human health either originate in, or are transferred to, human populations from domesticated animals raised for human consumption. Thus, the ecological context of emerging infectious disease comprises two overlapping ecosystems: the natural habitats and populations of wild animals, and the anthropogenically controlled habitats and populations of domesticated species. Intensive food animal production systems and their associated value chains dominate in developed countries and are increasingly important in developing countries. These systems are characterized by large numbers of animals being raised in confinement with high throughput and rapid turnover. Although not typically recognized as such, industrial food animal production generates unique ecosystems—environments that may facilitate the evolution of zoonotic pathogens and their transmission to human populations. It is often assumed that confined food animal production reduces risks of emerging zoonotic diseases. This article provides evidence suggesting that these industrial systems may increase animal and public health risks unless there is recognition of the specific biosecurity and biocontainment challenges of the industrial model. Moreover, the economic drivers and constraints faced by the industry and its participants must be fully understood in order to inform preventative policy. In order to more effectively reduce zoonotic disease risk from industrial food animal production, private incentives for the implementation of biosecurity must align with public health interests.

This article is a modified version of a Research Report of the Pro-Poor Livestock Initiative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), originally published in June 2007 at: http://www.fao.org/AG/AGAINFO/programmes/en/pplpi/docarc/rep-hpai_industrialisationrisks.pdf. Full permission to reproduce this work has been granted from the FAO.