Zoonotics – there’s a word most of us had never heard of before 2020!

But scientists have been discussing it since the turn of the century.

Zoonotic diseases are those which normally exist in animals, but which infect humans too. Covid-19 is the most serious in a list that includes SARS, MERS, Ebola and Zika.

While there is a case for stating that we should have been better prepared for Covid-19[i], the development of a range of vaccines in such a short space of time shows we now have clear methodologies and technologies which can save lives and money in the long run.

Nevertheless, concern about the transmission of zoonotic diseases has caused scientists to explore links between deforestation and the spread of diseases. “The more we’re disturbing this natural habitat, the more we’re shaking the pot,” says Amy Vittor, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute. With a range of diseases, “the links are becoming clear that disturbance leads to downstream emergence events in humans.”[ii]

But broad studies suggest the links are complex, vary according to the disease, and may be variable with the passage of time.[iii] [iv]

Despite this, people make intuitive links. One reason for deforestation in Brazil is the expansion of beef cattle farming. Whether or not there is a logical link to slaughterhouses or meat processing businesses, there was a high incidence of Covid-19 infections in such factories in a number of countries.[v]

The other area where action is needed is the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in animals. Factory farming is the number one user of antibiotics worldwide. Pork, poultry and livestock farmers routinely feed antibiotics to healthy animals, putting the long-term efficacy of these vital drugs at risk.

Research this month from the Coller FAIRR Protein Producer Index[vi] found that of 60 of the world’s largest meat, fish and dairy companies, 70 per cent have extremely poor levels of antibiotic stewardship, contributing to the growth of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

They argue that AMR is an urgent public health challenge, responsible for at least 700,000 deaths every year, and set to rise to 10 million by 2050, which is anticipated to cost $100 trillion in global economic losses. The threat of AMR is driven by the overuse and over-prescription of antibiotics across multiple industries, from animal agriculture to pharmaceuticals for human use.

They believe that with better antibiotic stewardship, the animal agriculture industry can build more sustainable supply chains, benefiting economic growth and animal welfare.

But many people don’t want to wait. The number of vegans in Great Britain quadrupled between 2014 and 2019, and vegans and vegetarians look set to make up a quarter of the British population in 2025, and flexitarians just under half of all UK consumers.[vii]

Today Singapore has given the world’s first approval for the sale of lab-grown meat[viii]. So-called clean or cultured meat is grown from animal muscle cells in a lab. Singapore currently only produces about 10% of its food but has set out ambitious plans to raise that over the next decade by supporting high-tech farming and new means of food production.