February 13, 2017


Escalating spread of diseases as demand for meat grows, FAO warns


Zealous meat productions, in order to meet rising demand in Asia, are threatening to override food safety standards and spark off a further escalation of disease infections, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned.

Against the backdrop of an ongoing battle waged by Asian and European authorities to contain different strains of bird flu since 2016, the FAO worries that outbreaks involving the likes of the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) will become increasingly common due to weaker national regulations. Already in recent years, three-quarters of emerging infectious diseases have transmitted to humans from animals or animal products, the World Health Organisation said. "We will see more diseases and we will see more epidemics, starting tomorrow," FAO chief veterinary officer Juan Lubroth commented this month.

In January, Guangzhou had to halt its live and slaughtered poultry trade for three days to curtail infections away from its human population. The city's disease control authority also urged residents to stay away live poultry following tests conducted in the past week. And in the week before February 6, death toll in China during the winter reached 30. Additionally, South Korea and Japan are facing similar crises, Reuters reported.

Strong economic growth and higher incomes in East Asia have led to more meat purchases as consumptions swelled fivefold over the last half-century, to 50kg per person in 2015, according to the FAO. Officials, who conduct vaccinations and inspections, experience difficulties in coping with the rapid expansion of livestock markets and farms – specifically those of pigs and chickens. Consequentially, the combination of world population growth and selective breeding practices could lead to a "disease perfect storm", Dr. Lubroth told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"All these (livestock) animals are genetically very similar... so if one is susceptible (to a disease), all of them are." Thus, food safety needs to be further prioritised by governments as well as stepped-up prevention to mitigate the scourge of epidemics, Dr. Lubroth said. 

- Reuters

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