Over the last few years, you might have noticed the buzz about a concept called “One World, One Health.” More than likely you were too busy with the important and meaningful parts of your life to really pay much attention or ponder for too long what the concept really meant and how it might impact your life or the lives of the producers you work with. I’d like to take a few moments to bring you up to speed.
In broad terms, the concept of One World, One Health recognizes the fact that humans and animals interact with greater frequency and intimacy than we might have previously considered. And that interaction offers the opportunity for the emergence and spread of disease agents that could potentially adversely impact animal or human health or both. The One Health concept is an effort to awaken both animal-health and public-health stakeholders globally to these issues and an attempt to focus funding, research, and resources toward addressing the potential health implications.
According to an article in Nature,1 there have been 335 emerging-disease events since 1940, mostly in developing regions of the world. Likewise, it has been widely reported that in the last 30 years, 75% of the emerging diseases are zoonotic. When you combine these facts with the realization that 95% of the projected global population growth is expected to occur in developing countries, and that food production will also need to increase in these areas to support that population growth, you can begin to get a sense of the potential health impact at the human-animal interface. Add in the fact that most developing countries have little to no infrastructure to effectively monitor, diagnose, treat, and control disease outbreaks, and you have a scenario that some fear could be the perfect storm for disease emergence.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has taken a leadership role in promoting the idea of One Health, which is nothing new to veterinarians and livestock producers. The human-animal interface is where we live and work on a daily basis. Practically everything we do in food-animal veterinary medicine and livestock production is governed by the realization that it may impact animal or human health or safety. We are all acutely aware of the animal health, animal well-being, human safety, human health, food safety, food security, wholesomeness, public perception, trade implications, and market-access aspects of what we do and how we do it. Protecting public health is ingrained in our daily lives – it’s even integral to the veterinary oath “…I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society…(and) the promotion of public health…”
While the AVMA has engaged the American Medical Association (AMA) to begin discussions on the One Health concept, the fundamental understanding of the human-animal interaction is not as prominent in the dialogue of the public-health sector. There exists a significant and pervasive lack of understanding among public-health officials and practitioners regarding animal agriculture. Perhaps One Health offers us an opportunity to bridge that gap and potentially access the vast resources available within human health to advance much needed research into animal and zoonotic diseases and production enhancements necessary to help us improve production efficiency and address the concerns of our critics.
The One Health effort is not without potential pitfalls for animal agriculture and veterinary medicine, however. We have concerns about many aspects of the as yet poorly defined concept. It is a real concern, for instance, that the interests of animal agriculture could become further minimalized when competing for funding and access to resources with human health. Our recent experience with pandemic H1N1 (pH1N1) is a good example. Health and Human Services (HHS) requested and received billions of dollars to research the influenza outbreak. The USDA was told to go ask HHS for $100 million to address animal-health concerns related to pH1N1. Health and Human Services provided USDA with $2 million for research, contingent on HHS’s approval of the proposed research projects. To the best of my knowledge, discussion continues regarding the remaining $98 million USDA requested. Again, an example of the lack of understanding at the administration and congressional levels of the significance of animal agriculture. Why shouldn’t USDA have been given direct access to funding to address the animal-health aspects of pH1N1, rather than having to go hat-in-hand to another agency to obtain funding?
There remains within animal agriculture a significant level of mistrust of the human-health sector. I think this arises largely from a lack of understanding on the part of public health regarding modern agriculture. They have been fed a consistent diet of misinformation and half-truths, and an unhealthy dose of precautionary principle in the place of evidence-based scientific analysis. Only the opportunity for open communication can influence this perception. One Health is, perhaps, a forum to facilitate such communication. For One Health to benefit animal agriculture, the same standards of rigor should be applied to animal- and human-health scientific analysis.
I’m not sure that One World, One Health will ever become anything more than an effort to educate our human-health counterparts about something we live on a daily basis. But if it is ever going to become something that benefits animal agriculture, the following topics need to be addressed:
- Communication is key to building trust
- Funding and resource allocations and priorities must be defined without bias
- Animal health must be an equal partner. Develop a partnership process to set the direction and objectives to emphasize issues relevant to both groups without slighting animal health.
- Defining the effect different ecosystems may have on agriculture and human risks
- Applying the same standards of rigor to scientific study
- Investigating the role of nutrition in One Health
- Examine the agriculture and human-health risks associated with the application of the One Health concept
The AVMA is committed to working with AMA and the public-health sector to move this concept forward. We need to be aware of, and involved in, what’s going on, so that the interests of veterinary medicine and food-animal production are not marginalized in the process.
1. Jones KE, Patel NG, Levy MA, Storeygard A, Balk D, Gittleman JL, Daszak P. Global trends in emerging infectious diseases. Nature. 2008;451:990-993. doi:10.1038/nature06536.
-- Harry Snelson, DVM