Ruth Clements (Benchmark), Work Package 4 Lead of PARAGONE, speaks at the London Vet Show in November 2018 on sustainable food systems, including the implementation of effective vaccines to control animal disease
Global human birth rate is on the decline, however the latest UN predictions of population predict up to 10bn people by 2050. With an estimated 70% of people predicted to live in super cities and with billions joining the middle class, this means an increased demand for dietary protein alongside fibre and biofuels – with demand in these areas nearly doubling since 2005. The rapid expansion of food animals over the past decade to a around 70bn, has left a legacy of production systems with major sustainability blocking challenges. Between 2000 and 2014 global meat production rose by 39% and milk production by 38%, with meat production estimated to rise an additional 19% between 2014 and 2017. The 2016 “Global Agricultural Productivity” or GAP report describes the “Greatest untold story of food waste today” in which it is estimated that 1/5th of all livestock are lost to disease through the production system. The frequently postulated need to “double food production” is challenged by some who argue that we already produce enough if we can close some of these productivity gaps. The 2017 “GAP” report indicated that for the 4th year running global food productivity is not accelerating quickly enough to meet demand.
There is little doubt that disease compromises sustainability across the board, and there is an urgent need to develop new ways of approaching control of endemic disease across the globe. From an environmental perspective losses through mortality or morbidity can be high as the resources, including land, water, feed, and time used to rear the animal may be wasted, and in the case of bacterial disease the one health or environmental “treatment cost” can be significant. From an ethical perspective the affect on welfare is clear, but high animal losses can also have a negative impact on agricultural workers and communities. Economically these productivity challenges can be the source of huge economic loss or missed economic opportunity.
The debate concluded that vets as professionals could have much to contribute towards the shift to sustainable production systems – by fully deploying their skill-set, by challenging the status quo and leading welfare and sustainability challenges.