The world has celebrated rinderpest virus eradication. But an FAO video shows there’s cleaning up to do after the party. Virologist Michael Baron explains.
Rinderpest, aka ’cattle plague’, was with us for a long time, at least 2000 years. Over the centuries, the virus killed uncounted millions of animals in Asia and Europe. When it was accidentally introduced into Africa for the first time, in the late 19th century, it went on to kill ~90% of the cattle and buffalo on that continent. It was, let’s be honest, a Very Bad Thing.
Note the past tense. After several decades of hard work across all of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, rinderpest was declared eradicated in 2011 (PDF), and there have been no cases of the disease, anywhere, for more than 15 years. Rinderpest was a Very Bad Thing, but it is now no longer a thing at all (read this GFS blog post for a review of how it was done).
Continue reading Locking up a killer virus
Insect farms could recover the true value of wasted organic nutrients, improve local food security and assist in environmental protection, says Keiran Olivares Whitaker of Entocycle.
Agriculture is probably the single most damaging human activity for the planet. Natural resources are already stretched, and to feed the future growing population and meet the demographic shifts in diet, extreme environmental damage will occur.
The optimum direction would be for the global population to shift to a more plant-based diet. The trajectory however is for 70% increase (PDF) in fish and meat consumption by 2050. But around 70% of agricultural land and 70% of fresh water use is already designated to produce feed for animals (PDF), and a recent report from The Economist has highlighted nearly 100% of fish stocks are now under pressure, to varying degrees of severity.
Continue reading Advancing insects as animal feed
Many had expected the 1.5°C temperature goal to drop out of the draft text during the fortnight of negotiations. Now, as the dust settles after the landmark agreement, scientists are grappling with the feasibility of meeting this more ambitious target.
But there was one sector that was largely absent from the talks in Paris. It’s something that we rely on everyday, and continuing to ignore it could mean waving goodbye to that 1.5°C goal. It’s food.
Continue reading Where was food in the COP21 Paris Agreement?
As a new report is published, BBSRC’s Adam Staines discusses the complex issues surrounding antibiotic use in the food chain.
Despite lots of wider media coverage in the last year on antimicrobials and antimicrobial resistance many people are still asking basic questions about what resistance is, what is resistant to what, and why should I really care?
Any societal complacency over the importance of antimicrobial drugs is actually a testament to their success. Many of the diseases that ravaged us and our livestock industries for centuries until Alexander Fleming and penicillin came along have been so successfully controlled we no longer fear them, or even recognise the names. (The leading causes of human death in 1900 were bacterial infections causing pneumonia, tuberculosis, diarrhoea and enteritis.)
Continue reading Antimicrobials in agriculture
Cutting an American family’s meat consumption by half is equivalent to getting rid of a car. Why isn’t the pressure on, asks Tim Benton.
The most recent figures for carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere give one pause for thought. There was a bigger increase in CO2 in the atmosphere over the last year than had been recorded for many years; despite all we know, carbon is increasing faster than ever, and faster than imagined in IPCC’s ‘worst case’ scenarios.
Continue reading Cars, cows and carbon
What will next generation livestock farms look like? Mick Watson examines scenarios and what we should do to get there.
Farmer Jane opened the gate and walked along the track that meandered along the side of her cattle barn. Chuckling to herself, she was old enough to remember how disease surveillance used to be done. It was so much easier now. Inside the barn, she approached the first of the ten cattle that had been randomly isolated, reached into her bag and took out the first of her SeqPensTM. Removing the protective lid, she briefly pressed the steel nib to the neck of the first animal then stood back to wait for the lights to change.
Continue reading Food, fantasies and the future
What does the future of animal production hold? David Hume looks forward.
We need to plan for increased production of animal products.
And there is increasing recognition that protein malnutrition has long-term effects on development of cognitive ability. Vegetarianism is not an option; there is evidence of subclinical malnutrition on vegetarian diets even in Western countries, and in developing countries high quality vegetable protein sources are no more available than animal protein.
Continue reading Genetics, genomics and gene modification
Utilising satellites as insurance loss adjusters could help to some of the poorest farmers in Africa. Michael Baron is watching.
Things happen, and sometimes bad things happen, like my house catching fire.
About 4000 years ago, people invented the concept of insurance, to share risks so no one lost everything when a bad thing happened. But my house catching fire is preventable – the things that are most important to insure against are the unpreventable bad things, such as extreme weather.
Continue reading From insecurity to food security
The poverty that many women suffer in the developing world is no laughing matter, but tackling a deadly livestock disease could help. Michael Baron explains.
On June 22 this year a number of UK celebrities, including Cilla Black, Cherie Blair, Rajashree Birla and Baroness Floella Benjamin, drew attention to International Widows’ Day by walking a small herd of goats across London Bridge.
The link between these two groups (the widows and the goats, rather than the celebrities) is poverty. Widows are among the poorest households in developing countries where there are no benefit systems to provide income support or pensions.
Continue reading A goat, a widow and a celebrity walk into a bar…
Harvesting plants from the sea is an essential part of successful marine agronomy, says John Forster.
Aquaculture has been the subject of two recent high profile reports. The first, entitled Blue Frontiers, begins by asserting ‘There is a pressing need to elevate the debate on the future of aquaculture and to place this in the context of other animal food production systems, including wild capture fisheries’. The second report made the front cover of Time Magazine and poses the question ‘Can farming save the last wild food?’
Both reports make important points. Between 1970 and 2008, global aquaculture production grew (PDF) at an average rate of 8.4% per year, and aquaculture remains one of the fastest growing food producing sectors measured in terms of year-on-year percentage gain. Furthermore, because the world’s fisheries are yielding all they can, there is simply no option but to farm seafood if growing human demand for animal protein is to be met.
Continue reading Elevating the aquaculture debate