So said Dr. Gideon Brückner from South Africa, who chaired the group of experts from several continents, during a recent meeting organized by the World Organization for Animal Health (O.I.E.). The group focused on detecting links between animal production systems around the world, climate change and the epidemiological evolution of animal diseases.
The experts cited some positive effects of livestock farming, including:
• The recycling of plants and the conversion of solar energy to animal products with high added-value through the consumption of plants by herbivores.
• The numerous herbivore production systems which help to maintain sylvopastoral ecosystems, contributing to the sequestration of carbon and nitrogen derivatives, biodiversity and favorable management of water in the river side basins concerned.
• The contribution of these farming methods to maintaining an open landscape.
The experts also mentioned other positive aspects requiring more detailed research, such as the advantages of the natural organic fertilizer the animals produce. These natural fertilizers are often in fact a good substitute for synthetic fertilizers produced by industrial chemistry.
They emphasized, however, that any analysis of these benefits should always be conducted in parallel with an analysis of the disadvantages, weighing the benefits against the negative effects, for example greenhouse gas emissions such as methane and nitrous oxide, notably from ruminants.
They also emphasized the importance of research to develop and apply methods to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Animal production is a major component of food security. Products of animal origin, such as milk, eggs and meat, contain precious nutrients and are an inherent part of any worldwide food security policy: worldwide demand for these products is rising and is set to increase substantially.
Domestic animals also represent a means of subsistence with no feasible alternative for hundreds of millions of families around the world. It is estimated that 1 billion people, 700 million of them poor, are dependent on their animals for food, income or draught power.
The O.I.E. experts recommended investing more in research to confirm or rule out causal links between climate change and emerging or re-emerging diseases.
“For a number of years, the O.I.E. has been implementing policies aimed at helping its member countries to be better prepared for the consequences of intensified animal production. The aim is to meet world demand and to be prepared to deal with new epidemiological events, most of which are related to human-caused environmental changes” said Dr. Bernard Vallat, director general of the O.I.E.