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  • ©FAO/Giampiero Diana
  • Livestock carries cultural dimensions that are important to societies


  • Juan Lubroth
    Chief AGAH and CVO of FAO
    Animal Health Service
    Animal Production and Health Division
    FAO HQ, Room C-532
    Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
    00153 Rome, Italy
    Tel: +39 06 570 54184
  • juan.lubroth@fao.org
  • Peter de Leeuw
    Senior Veterinary Adviser, AGAH
    Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
    FAO HQ, Room C-586
    Rome, 00100, Italy
    Tel: +39 06 570 54885



Agriculture, Livestock, Emerging Diseases, and Agricultural Law: Connecting the Dots

Today, about one third of the world’s workers are employed in agriculture. Despite the size of its workforce, agricultural production accounts for roughly five percent of gross world product (GWP). Contemporary agriculture is molded by innovation, stewardship, and advancements continually adopted by farmers and growers to sustainably produce high-quality products. During the past 50 years, intensive scientific research and robust investment in agriculture has helped farmers double food production. This provides an affordable supply of food to meet the demands of a growing population.

An estimated 1.5 billion people in rural households depend on livestock for food, income, savings, and traction. Livestock contributes 40 percent of agricultural GWP. Livestock and processed livestock products provide protein, macronutrients, and micronutrients to roughly 850 million food-insecure people. For some, livestock keeping is a pathway out of poverty. For others, such as residents of high-income countries, livestock products are a source of health problems. Livestock carries cultural dimensions that are important to societies. For instance, in certain cultures, cattle are considered sacred, whereas pigs may be thought of as unholy. Yet, despite the benefits derived from livestock, the sector has been recently criticized for contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. An estimated 18 percent of these emissions are caused by the livestock sector, using an aggregate life cycle approach.

Although livestock provides food and income for a growing world population, they can harbor diseases that pose threats to humans. In fact, in the first decade of this century, the world has witnessed three major human pandemic threats. These include Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), and Pandemic H1N1 Influenza. These emerging high-impact diseases arose at points of convergence between animals, humans, and natural ecosystems. When they occur, they carry significant economic, political, public health, and social consequences. Fast communication technologies and news reporting spread occurrence of alarming disease events across the world. They also highlight the spectacular array of threats and hazards faced by modern societies. These include climatic changes, financial debacles, food poisonings, ecological degradation, radicalism, recurrent natural disasters, terrorism, toppled regimes, and wars.

People are not only bombarded with information but also seek to learn about where and how their food is produced. This creates greater demand for understanding agriculture and food legislation, along with their relationships to international, environmental, and trade laws. Broadly, agricultural legislation is the network of specialized laws that apply to the production, marketing, and sale of agricultural products. It includes the food we eat, the natural fibers we wear, and increasingly, the biofuel that runs our cars. Together with food legislation, it provides the basic framework for our food systems. It is important to highlight that all these laws are borne from the need to have systems of binding rules. Laws are enacted and promulgated by pertinent governing bodies and are enforced by relevant institutions to protect citizenries.

As animal diseases continue to infect humans resulting in negative consequences and impacts, agricultural laws are set to support countries. This support concentrates on efforts to regulate activities for the prevention and control of pests and diseases of animal origin.

In the presence of legal frameworks, national agencies tasked with delivery of veterinary services undertake their primary and secondary functions. The scope of these activities spans from monitoring, detecting, reporting, and controlling outbreaks of animal diseases to inspecting production systems before certifying live and processed products for export, overseeing food safety and quality, and administering welfare practices. The body of agreements, conventions, and entities involved in agriculture and food reflects its importance in domestic and international affairs. The international agreements and organizations involved in animal health are many. These include the Andean Community, AU-IBAR, APEC, ASEAN, BTWC, CAFTA, CARICOM, CBD, CITES, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, COMESA, ECOWAS, the European Commission, FAO, IFAD, IFPRI, IFOAM, IPPC, ISO, MERCOSUR, NAFTA, OAS, OECD, OIE, OIRSA, SADC, SAARC, SPS, TBT, WHO, WTO, African and Asian regional banks, and the World Bank.

Globalized trade, lower transaction costs, open markets, and affordable transportation options serve as powerful incentives for countries to enact reforms. Countries make the necessary changes to their current agriculture and food laws as well as numerous capital and human investments needed to successfully participate in the world economy. This emerges as the driving rationale behind a careful assessment, reassessment, and drafting of codes, norms, regulations, and rules. This occurs so that private and public sector actors can comply with sets of regulatory measures that are required to successfully engage in commerce. Farmers need to know about prevailing national agriculture and food laws given that some agricultural activities may need government approval.

Adequate governance and transparency in agriculture-based economies are constructively and positively supported by robust national agriculture and food laws. These laws need to be coherent, comprehensive, forward-looking, and adaptive to the changing realities of the modern world. Their impacts are not exclusive to securing food, alleviating hunger, and reducing poverty. They are also pertinent to promoting domestic and international animal trade that is pivotal to sustainable economic development. In fact, contemporary international agricultural trade involves many different areas of international and domestic law. These include international accords, agreements, conventions, deals, and treaties, regional trade frameworks, and strategic foreign policy decisions.

Generally, countries seeking to update their national legal frameworks in certain subject areas often examine the laws of neighboring countries. This examination includes national and regional legal frameworks of key trade partners. Countries updating legislations try to learn about different ways to approach issues and to implement selected policies. They may also seek guidance from other sources which contain ‘best practices’, ‘lessons learned’, or ‘recommendations’ for legislative and regulatory amendments.

Strong economic drivers acting on the world are more forcefully calling for the creation of basic agriculture and food laws. These are expected to encompass as many interrelated activities as possible but tailored to fit each country’s legislative background, existing political system, and unique identity. Importantly, the rationalization of these laws warrants an organized, multistage, and participatory process. First, is identifying all agriculture and food related activities taking place within the country. Second, is analyzing existing legislative provisions and institutional setups. Third, is to take into consideration the national political backdrop, the available resources, and policy priorities. It is only at this point that the process of revising or drafting comprehensive agriculture and food legislations tailored to each country’s particular circumstances begins.

In response to these needs and in recognition of trends indicating continued emergence of infectious diseases of animal origin, FAO’s Animal Health Service (AGAH) collaborates with the Development Law Service of the Legal Office (LEGN) to continue to assist Member Countries wishing to take full advantage of the rapidly growing and transforming livestock sector while upholding public health and national priorities. These efforts support FAO’s mandate to raise the levels of nutrition, improve agricultural productivity, better the lives of rural populations, and contribute to the growth of the world economy.