25 January 2011 - Animal health economics is an aid to decision-making on animal health interventions at various levels that can range from the individual animal to the national herd and, finally, to international disease control efforts. Animal health interventions include farm biosecurity upgrades, stamping out measures, and vaccination campaigns, to name a few. Due to advances in disease control and greater competition for public funds it has become increasingly important to provide sound economic justification for any proposed action to improve or safeguard animal health, especially to those national, regional and international actors expected to finance interventions.
The goal of animal health economics is to facilitate the process of making rational choices or decisions in the allocation of scarce resources in relation to competing alternatives or interventions. The monetary units used in economic assessments are a means to compare and contrast the different resources and goals involved in these decisions.
Animal diseases represent a negative and often unexpected ‘input’ in the process of converting resources or production factors into products of animal origin (they also impact the services rendered by farm animals). In short, animal diseases cause direct and indirect economic losses to producers, processors, distributors, traders and consumers.
An early clarification must be made when conducting economic analyses of animal health issues to assist in deciding on the ‘best allocation’ of limited resources: Whose point of view will be considered? These points of view can be that of the individual farmer, the specific livestock sub-sector (e.g. the poultry sub-sector), the entire livestock industry, and, finally, society as a whole.
In relation to the above noted, the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), supported by the British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), held a meeting in London on “Economics of animal health and welfare—how will we increase the impact of economic analysis on decisions about health?” on 7−8 December 2010 to discuss the use of economics in animal health decision-making.
This meeting included 66 participants with expertise in economics, epidemiology, social science and education; and it posed the following questions to guide participants’ discussions:
- How can educational institutions improve the incorporation of economics into veterinary undergraduate teaching?
- How can economics add value to animal health and ‘One Health’ policy decision-making?
- What are the emerging issues and research needs (methodological and policy) in animal health and ‘One Health’ economics?
- How can international technical agencies strengthen existing networks of people working in the field of economics of animal health and ‘One Health’, particularly in developing countries?
Some of the major reflections from this meeting were that (a) unless economics plays a more predominant role in disease control decisions, governments around the world risk wasting substantial sums on interventions with poor returns, (b) that a range of important questions around international animal disease remain unanswered, (c) it challenged the degree of joint work and mutual understanding between the economic and veterinary professions, and (d) that there is a need to reassess if the right questions are being asked and if the right agendas are being framed in order to meet the complex needs of society on improved health and welfare through animals.
For its part, FAO conducts work on animal health economics by determining the losses caused by diseases at different production stages, identifying the control options available and their respective costs, and evaluating the probability of intervention success under various scenarios, because it recognizes that these analyses can generate relevant information to improve disease control efforts.