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Improving zoonotic disease prevention and livestock production through nuclear-derived techniques

FAO and IAEA today opened the International Symposium on Sustainable Animal Production and Health

Joint FAO-IAEA Press Release

28 June 2021, Rome/Vienna
- A symposium organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) opened today focusing on the prevention of animal disease outbreaks that can cause human pandemics like COVID-19, as well as ways to boost sustainable animal production to feed growing populations.

The week-long International Symposium on Sustainable Animal Production and Health virtually brings together over 2000 international experts in veterinary medicine, genetics and biochemistry, among other scientific fields, to discuss topics such as emergency preparedness and response to outbreaks, advances in animal disease vaccine development and the latest biochemistry tools to improve livestock production, breeding and feed.

"Sustainable animal production and animal health systems are essential to attain the Four Betters, better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life, leaving no one behind" said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu. "Protecting animal health under the One Health framework is at the core of our work. This Symposium is an excellent platform to discuss progress, but more importantly, to envisage the future," he added.

"The IAEA's mandate to promote nuclear technologies and their peaceful applications is especially important in health, food and agriculture," IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said.

The IAEA Animal Production and Health Laboratory, which is part of the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, has carried out vital research and development work to help countries tackle animal and zoonotic diseases such as Avian flu, African swine fever, Zika and Ebola in the past decade. More recently, it has been at the centre of the IAEA's Euro 26 million assistance to 130 countries to use nuclear-derived RT-PCR tests in efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Building on this experience, last year the IAEA launched the Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action (ZODIAC) initiative to support countries in the use of nuclear and nuclear-derived techniques for the timely detection and control of pathogens at the animal-human interface. "The IAEA is staying present and offering this platform with a nuclear-specific component," Director General Grossi said while recalling past Agency assistance to the international community in battles against significant outbreaks. 

"The world is looking to us to produce synergies and provide leadership for a One Health approach that prevents future pandemics originating from animal sources", said FAO Director General Qu Dongyu.

With the livestock production system becoming more intensified in many parts of the world to meet demands for animal-based foods, the symposium will address the challenges and potential strategies for controlling emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, especially with the One Health approach. One Health recognizes the interconnectedness of the health of people, animals and the environment, and this multidisciplinary approach is essential to achieve optimal planetary health and the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.   

Ten-year anniversary of the eradication of rinderpest disease

The Symposium marks ten years since the successful eradication of rinderpest - the second viral disease to have been defeated globally after smallpox was eliminated in 1980. For centuries, the cattle and wild animal pest seriously threatened food security, especially in Africa and Asia. Its eradication was declared in 2011 by the Paris-based World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), following an international effort that benefited from FAO and IAEA support to develop tools to quickly detect and efficiently monitor rinderpest cases in the field.

"The eradication of rinderpest is a perfect example of the effectiveness of well-built partnerships," OIE Director General Monique Eloit said in her opening remarks. Surveillance, she added, is an essential component of disease prevention along with vaccines, and the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre plays a key role in this regard, supporting the overarching goals of the OIE and FAO.  

Although rinderpest no longer occurs in livestock, the rinderpest virus-containing material is being stored in laboratories of more than 20 countries where it poses a risk through inadvertent or malicious release. FAO is leading the process of reducing the number of laboratories keeping the virus by advocating for and offering assistance to destroy or relocate it to highly secure FAO-OIE rinderpest holding facilities. 

Joint FAO/IAEA Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture
Nuclear technologies provide competitive and often unique solutions to help fight hunger, reduce malnutrition, improve environmental sustainability, and ensure food safety and authenticity. FAO and IAEA work in strategic partnership to assist Members in using these technologies safely and appropriately. In 2021 the long-standing collaboration was strengthened through the upgrading of the Joint Division to the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre.

First established in 1964, the Joint Centre and its Agriculture and Biotechnology Laboratory coordinates and supports applied research through more than 25 coordinated research projects annually where over 400 international and national research institutions and experimental stations cooperate. It also supports more than 200 national and regional technical cooperation projects every year to transfer these technologies to Members. Located at the IAEA Seibersdorf facility 35 km south of the Austrian capital Vienna, unique FAO/IAEA Laboratories perform applied and adaptive research and development in order to provide standards, protocols, guidelines, training and specialized services.

Photo: ©FAO/Simon Maina
A herd of cattle drinking water, Narok, Kenya.