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Livestock plagues are on the rise globally, owing to increasingly intensive farming practices and the world's growing taste for meat and other animal products.
The warning comes from scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), based in Nairobi, Kenya, who argue that different approaches are needed to curb these diseases.
A new infectious disease emerges every four months, and 75% of them originate in animals, according to ILRI figures. They can have severe socio-economic, health and environmental impacts: some of the most damaging diseases are Rift Valley fever (Phlebovirus), which can sometimes cause a haemorrhagic fever, and Bluetongue disease (Orbivirus).
Whereas rich nations are controlling livestock diseases effectively, developing countries, including many in Africa and Asia, lag "dangerously behind", says John McDermott, deputy director general for research at the ILRI.
This gap could imperil food security in the developing world, where up to 40% of household income can depend on livestock, McDermott and his ILRI colleague Delia Grace warn today at a conference in New Delhi (Leveraging agriculture for improving nutrition and health).
"Over the past 10 years, the number of emerging diseases has increased," agrees Alejandro Thiermann, who is in charge of setting international standards for animal health at the World Organisation for Animal Health based in Paris, France. Understanding the links between human and animal diseases will be "critical" in controlling the spread of diseases, he adds.