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The rise of unregulated livestock production in East and Southeast Asia prompts health concerns – UNFAO


The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is warning that increasing demand for, and consumption of, meat and other products of animal origin in East and Southeast Asia are threatening the health of millions of people and livestock as unregulated producers race to meet the demand, often ignoring the possibility of disease and contamination.   

According to FAO figures, during the last 50 years, consumption of meat products has skyrocketed in East Asia, from nearly 9 kg per capita (8.7 kg) in the mid 1960’s to 50 kg per person in 2015 – an increase of more than 500 percent. The trend is set to continue, increasing a further 15 percent by the middle of this century.

Increased prosperity in the region, mainly in China, along with changing diets and demand for more protein-rich foods, are largely responsible for the increases in demand and consumption. But even without the increased consumption in China, the region still consumed three-times more meat during the same period. Japan, for example, increased per capita meat consumption from nearly 33 kg in the mid-1980’s to more than 41 kg in the late 1990’s, while its net imports quadrupled and self-sufficiency fell by around one-third.

“The elephant in the room is the population explosion in the region, and not only in terms of human population, but also animal populations in food and agriculture,” said Dr. Juan Lubroth, FAO’s Chief Veterinary Officer, during a meeting at the Organization’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. “The demand for more meat products is driving an industry to have those products ready for purchase in the markets but there are risks associated with this.”

Under-regulated and unmonitored – a breeding ground for new diseases

“Much of the growth in livestock for human consumption (in Asia and elsewhere) has been unregulated so the systems in place to ensure food safety and consumer confidence, the protection of human and animal health, and prevention of existing transboundary diseases and newly emerging ones, have not been well addressed. This weakness in the system has its consequences that manifest themselves in the spread of new and existing diseases,” Lubroth said.

More than 70 percent of all transmittable human diseases are contracted from animals (zoonosis), and as animal production for human consumption increases in East Asia, so too does the threat of newly emerging pathogens that can spread between animals and people and cross borders even before symptoms begin to appear.

“Because of the rampant appearance of both new and old diseases, and the easy way that they can move across borders through live animals or commodities and across value chains, it is important that everyone – from governments to farmers to retailers – takes action to improve levels of disease prevention and response. To get vaccines to livestock producers in rural areas has a cost. And so a typical approach to a sick animal is sell it before it dies,” Lubroth added. “What’s really needed is for health and agriculture authorities to work more closely together on both human and animal health in a holistic way to address the gaps that allow these diseases to spread. That will take determination and resources, but it’s in everyone’s best interests.”

FAO and partners in action

In the Asia-Pacific region, FAO operates the Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) and is actively working with FAO member countries to prevent the spread of new and old diseases and mitigate risks.

FAO is also working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) to advocate a One Health approach (e.g. actions to holistically benefit humans, animals and the environment). The three agencies recently launched a region-wide campaign to raise awareness about antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and the resulting ill effects seen in both humans and animals due to the misuse and abuse of antibiotics.

Across the Asia-Pacific region, FAO specialists work closely with counterparts in government, in laboratories and farmer field schools, helping to refine policies and build capacity to improve animal health and food safety at all levels. 

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