Animal health matters in all different farming systems and different systems can play their part in contributing to a more sustainable food system.
Sustainability is a balancing act. This goes for every sector, but none more so than the livestock sector, and the sustainability of livestock farming is a key focus both in the European Green Deal and global discussions on sustainable food systems.
When you take animal health as the pivotal point for livestock farming practices, the act of trying to balance the social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainability becomes a much easier task. A well-established animal health management plan established by the farmer together with veterinary and other advisors can help deliver on all three pillars.
CONTRIBUTING TO THE SOCIAL PILLAR
Taking the social pillar first, any sustainable business should have the support of its employees and the community it operates in, as well as the support of the consumers it serves. Social acceptance of how animals are raised on farms has a growing influence and more and more people express concern for the health and welfare of animals in farming systems.
Good training on animal health and welfare practices on farm alongside access to the necessary tools to support good health is important in this respect. Animal health is after all a prerequisite for good animal welfare. Veterinary vaccines and medicines help to prevent and treat animal diseases, as well as reduce pain and discomfort. And in terms of our shared health, healthy animals are the cornerstone of Europe’s high levels of food safety. Careful animal health management focused on prevention also reduces the occurrence of bacterial infections, and therefore the need to use antibiotics. This is another positive contribution to the social pillar and to public health.
CONTRIBUTING TO THE ENVIRONMENTAL PILLAR
Healthy animals also deliver on the environmental pillar. Efficiencies that are beneficial for our environment are most often created when herds or flocks benefit from good health. Innovative technologies can be used by farmers to help with various animal monitoring factors such as: feed intake; weight; temperature; etc. assisting with more targeted management of animals both individually and as a group.
When animals are healthy, they generally require fewer natural resource inputs like feed and water as they move through the production system. This means excess need for such inputs can be avoided. Livestock consume crop residues and other by-products that could otherwise become an environmental burden as 86% of livestock feed is not suitable for human consumption. Well-managed animals can also lead to a 30% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation. And in terms of biodiversity, grazing animals help to maintain grasslands that act as important carbon traps and cannot be used to grow other foods.
CONTRIBUTING TO THE ECONOMIC PILLAR
For the economic pillar, ensuring the continued viability of livestock farming is often linked to the creation of efficiencies both on farm and within the food system. This includes using the necessary animal health tools and services to reduce animal mortality and illness which means the farmer can avoid food, animal or other product losses directly at farm level. If you consider the impacts of parasite infections in sheep for example this can include impacts such as losses in milk yield, slower growth, and even reduced wool production. By ensuring accurate attention to the animals in their care, farmers can run their farms efficiently and sustainably.
ANIMAL HEALTH MATTERS
in all different farming systems and different systems can play their part in contributing to a more sustainable food system. For the animal health industry, sustainable livestock farming systems should include regular veterinary visits, good animal health management plans, use of preventive vaccines where possible, good biosecurity measures and housing, appropriate nutrition and careful attention to animal well-being, on both a group and individual basis.