Asian factory farming boom spreading animal diseases like avian influenza

| 11th February 2011

Animal diseases spreading to humans are responsible for 16 per cent of infectious diseases in less-industrialised countries

Increasing density of livestock production and poor biosecurity in Asia is encouraging epidemics, with a new disease emerging every four months, says new International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) report

Less industrialised countries, particularly in Asia, are struggling to cope with the disease outbreaks associated with the rapid intensification of meat production, according to new research.

Animal diseases spreading to humans are responsible for 16 per cent of infectious diseases in less-industrialised countries. However, researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) said the obsession with increasing meat production and profit was 'largely ignoring' the spread of animal diseases to humans.

The speed of intensification in many countries could not be matched by improvements in management, hygiene and veterinary capacity, said John McDermott, who led the ILRI research.

'Wealthy countries are effectively dealing with livestock diseases, but in Africa and Asia, the capacity of veterinary services to track and control outbreaks is lagging dangerously behind livestock intensification. This lack of capacity is particularly dangerous because many poor people in the world still rely on farm animals to feed their families, while rising demand for meat, milk and eggs among urban consumers in the developing world is fueling a rapid intensification of livestock production,' he said.

The spread and subsequent establishment of avian influenza (AI) in previously disease-free countries, such as Indonesia, was a classic example, the researchers say, of the risks posed by high-density chicken and duck operations as well as the rapid global movement of both people and livestock. In addition, large-scale irrigation designed to boost agricultural productivity, they say, has created conditions that facilitate the establishment of diseases such as the Rift Valley fever virus in new regions, with occasional outbreaks killing hundreds of people along with thousands of animals.

According to reaseachers, 61 percent of all human pathogens, and 75 per cent of new human pathogens, are transmitted by animals, and some of the most lethal bugs affecting humans originate in our domesticated animals. 'A new disease emerges every four months; many are trivial, but HIV, SARS, and Avian influenza illustrate the huge potential impacts,' said McDermott.

The researchers say less industrialised countries need to improve their monitoring and veterinary capacity to stop or contain livestock epidemics before the become widespread. They estimated the potential cost of a human pandemic from avian influenza, for example, could be US$3 trillion.

Add to StumbleUpon
Transylvania: could this 'lost in time' land be the future of European agriculture?
Transylvania has maintained traditional farming methods for hundreds of years. As it faces the twin threats of intensive agriculture and byzantine EU policies, its model of under-development is attracting the interest of policy makers
Jonathan Safran Foer: environmentalists who eat meat have a blind-spot
Factory farming depends on our ignorance but the world needs to move away from eating meat, US author Jonathan Safran Foer tells Tom Levitt
Undercover Investigation: The shocking cost of US 'mega-dairies'
With planning permission for Britain's biggest dairy at Nocton about to be re-submitted, The Ecologist travels to California to examine intensive milk production - and finds factory farms, conflict, intimidation, pesticides, pollution and small-scale farmers driven out of business...
GM disease resistant animals 'cover-up' for factory farming
The successful breeding of chickens genetically modified not to transmit the bird flu virus could lead to many more GM resistant livestock being produced
CAMPAIGN HERO: Tracy Worcester, producer of Pig Business film
Her shocking film alerted unsuspecting consumers to the hidden costs of factory farmed pork. She talks to the Ecologist ahead of a special screening of Pig Business at the European Parliament

More from this author


The Ecologist has a formidable reputation built on fifty years of investigative journalism and compelling commentary from writers across the world. Now, as we face the compound crises of climate breakdown, biodiversity collapse and social injustice, the need for rigorous, trusted and ethical journalism has never been greater. This is the moment to consolidate, connect and rise to meet the challenges of our changing world. The Ecologist is owned and published by the Resurgence Trust. Support The Resurgence Trust from as little as £1. Thank you. Donate now.