Wildlife & Biodiversity

World Veterinary Day 2020: How animal welfare by vets can help prevent future outbreaks

Poor animal welfare standards in the food chain is instrumental to the origin of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

By Nidish Bhardwaj
Published: Saturday 25 April 2020

The whole world has come to a standstill in the wake of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, causing huge losses in human life and to the economy.

Scientists and medical professionals are putting in their best efforts to fight this rapidly spreading infection.

A lot has already been said about the likely origin of the deadly virus (SARS-CoV-2), but two things are indubitable: Transmission from animals to humans and poor animal welfare standards in the food chain were instrumental in the origin of this pandemic.

Zoonotic infections invariably progress into epidemics or pandemics whenever animal welfare is compromised.

Animal welfare is a state when the animal is physically fit, feeling happy and able to express its natural behaviour. As its very evident, animal welfare regulations are rarely enforced in the food chain, especially in developing countries.

Sixty per cent of the pathogens that cause diseases in humans are of animal origin, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health.

These diseases — known as zoonoses — can be transmitted by domestic or wild animals. Animal diseases that are transmissible to humans present a public health risk worldwide and it is imperative that they must be prevented or combated at every level.

The most effective and economic solution to protect humans is to combat all zoonotic pathogens through their control at the animal source itself. Early detection of diseases and infections at animal source can prevent their transmission to humans or introduction of pathogens into the food chain.

Veterinarians play a key role in protecting the health and welfare of animals and protecting the health of humans.

Food producing animals

Veterinarians are responsible for the compliance of regulations on animal health, animal welfare, food safety and safe trade of animal products throughout the food chain.

If healthy animals are raised in humane conditions in a farm, the chances of spread of infection can be minimised. The humane method of production can be ensured by following means:

  • Animal welfare is ensured by good management practices like proper feeding, watering, housing and taking preventive measures like vaccination and deworming
  • Surveillance, prevention and control of animal diseases
  • Feed quality control
  • Safe use of veterinary drugs
  • Transportation of only healthy animals: The health of animals to be screened during the transportation from farm to slaughter house, as overcrowding, poor handling and live transportation of livestock has been found to compromise immunity, making them prone to infection
  • Animals are examined clinically before slaughter and inspection of carcass is done after slaughter
  • Maintenance of hygiene and cold chain during processing, storage and distribution of food products

Stray dog population control

Ninety-nine per cent of human rabies cases are transmitted by dog bites, according to the World Health Organization. The focus must be on controlling dog rabies so that human rabies can be eliminated, as the disease and infection at the animal source must be curbed to save human lives.

This can be achieved by:

  • Anti-rabies vaccination (ARV) of dogs
  • Awareness on responsible ownership
  • Dog identification
  • Control of stray dog populations through Animal Birth Control programmes

Judicious use of drugs

Ensuring the judicious use of drugs in animals is essential to preserve their effectiveness. The indiscriminate use of antimicrobials in humans and animals leads to the emergence of anti-microbial resistance that hampers the control of animal and human diseases.

Control of zoonotic diseases

Tracking and controlling animal diseases, including those transmissible to humans is necessary to prevent the rapid spread of outbreaks — including the Avian influenza, the Ebola virus disease and swine flu — to prevent potential mutations of the virus and the risk of transmission to humans.

Good animal welfare requires disease prevention and appropriate veterinary care, shelter, management and nutrition, a stimulating and safe environment, human handling and humane slaughter, according to guidelines by the OIE.

Animal and human sectors work together to protect health and ensure food safety and security. We can preserve our future by protecting animals.  Veterinarians have a key role in preventing future pandemics by ensuring animal welfare at every level.

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