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FAO and Max Planck Institute take on species-swapping diseases

Focus on interactions between wild animals, livestock, and human populations to reduce risks, strengthen responses

30 May 2011, Rome - FAO and the German Max Planck Institute are joining forces to study species-swapping diseases that move back and forth between wild animals and domestic livestock and, in some cases, jump to human victims.

In today's interconnected world, population growth, modern transportation and increased global trade in animals and animal products have vastly accelerated the spread of zoonoses - species jumping diseases - capable of wreaking major impacts on farmers' livelihoods and human health alike. A/H1N1 swine flu and the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza are but two recent examples.

A memorandum of understanding signed today by FAO and the Max-Planck-Institute for Ornithology, based in Radolfzell, Germany, establishes a strategic partnership aimed at combining the organizations' expertise and resources to tackle this problem.

A key goal of the partnership will be to determine which agroecological landscapes represent the greatest risk for disease transmission among human, livestock, and wild animal populations.

Among other things, the agreement also commits FAO and the Institute to helping countries strengthen their national capacity to balance preservation of natural resources and biodiversity with and expansion and intensification of agricultural production to ensure food security. 

Strategic partnership, holistic vision

"Combining the Institute's extensive trove of data on wildlife movements with FAO data on livestock production and landscape changes due to agriculture, forestry and urbanisation, will permit a new level of insight into animal-human interactions, conservation priorities, and more effective management of and response  to health risks," said Martin Wikelski, director of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology.

FAO Deputy Director-General for Knowledge Ann Tutwiler added: "Disease dynamics can no longer be considered in isolation within the livestock sector but must be placed into a broader context of sustainable agriculture, socio-economic development, environment protection and sustainability."

"This is why FAO is moving forward with the ‘One Health' approach that emphasizes a multidisciplinary collaboration in solving challenging health issues arising from the livestock-wildlife-human-ecosystem interfaces -- working closely with partners like the Max Planck Institute," Tutwiler said.

About FAO and the Institute

The Department of Migration and Immuno-ecology of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology has far-reaching expertise in investigating animal movements on a global scale, including the creation of its online, open-access database on world animal movements, MoveBank.

FAO has long worked to safeguard animal and veterinary public health, maintain animal genetic diversity, and minimize the environmental impact of livestock production. The UN agency has played a leading role in helping countries cope with outbreaks of zoonotic and non-zoonotic animal diseases, including understanding and addressing the factors leading to their emergence. This includes work on avian influenza, A/H1N1 influenza, rift valley fever, and African sleeping sickness as well as the international effort to eradicate rinderpest.

Photo: ©FAO/A. K. Kimoto
Wild birds in Thailand await inspection by animal health authorities.

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