Animal Health & Better Control of Zoonotic Diseases

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Recently, the One Health India Summit highlighted the various food safety hazards in the “farm to plate” chain and emphasized on the need for monitoring and controlling these hazards all along the chain in collaboration with other sectors like animal husbandry. The need for creating a framework for strengthening surveillance of and response to foodborne diseases in India by fostering multi-sectoral collaboration, especially animal and agriculture sectors was acknowledged. The summit also emphasized on the impact of food safety hazards like pesticides and antimicrobial residues on public health and balance of trade between various countries.

What does the concept of one health portray?

The One Health Framework advocates the idea of fully connecting the public health, animal health, plant health and the environment as an integrated whole to address issues such as disease diagnosis, surveillance and control of diseases, zoonoses, antimicrobial resistance, food safety and environmental health.

The Sky Greens System to Grow More Food in Less Space The One Health approach to control food borne diseases considers the complete ‘farm to fork’ chain to reduce the disease burden and the economic burden to developing economies. Animal Health: There is definitely room for improvement in several areas that can help in better control of zoonotic diseases Firstly, there is high degree of variance today in the animal health sector, in terms of farm practices targeting disease prevention and the level of awareness. While poultry is much advanced in vaccine preventable disease awareness, the cattle segment is lagging behind with low awareness in a much fragmented farmer landscape. Additionally, there is a high degree of fear around business continuity today resulting in poor surveillance measures and reporting of disease outbreaks, which needs better streamlining to be able to control the diseases at the source. At the other end, vaccines also play a critical role in disease prevention. While there are several government and NGO-led vaccination programs for critical diseases such as rabies and brucellosis, the efficacy of such programs need to be enhanced multi fold to trigger a meaningful impact.

Controlling the AMR Challenge:

Antibiotics are truly a breakthrough innovation in the field of medicine and remain a cornerstone in treating infectious diseases. However, excessive use of antibiotics at all levels is one of the largest One Health related challenges today resulting in anti-microbial resistance. Statistics suggest that more than 70% of enterobacteria today are resistant to third generation cephalosporins. The problem is double-edged, with impulsive use of antibiotics in humans for even minor illnesses and lack of controlled administration of antibiotics in farm animals. There is a large gap today in terms of in national stipulated maximum residue limits (MRL) for antibiotics in animal-based produce. In the absence of MRLs, it is difficult to enforce rationale use of antibiotics and there is the risk of trickledown effect on the food chain. The problem also compounded by highly unregulated pharmacy landscape in the country for dispensing antibiotics, serving as an easy-access source for animal use. All of these factors have created a situation where a continuous loop has been created for influx of antibiotic-resistant strains that affect humans, now creating a looming public health concern.

Animal Health Impact the Market of Food and Agriculture in India:

The Sky Greens System to Grow More Food in Less Space Approximately 75% of the emerging infectious diseases affecting humans are diseases of animal origin and approximately 60% of all human pathogens are zoonotic i.e. are spread between human and animals. Therefore it’s very crucial to improve the animal health to prevent the transmission of disease causing agents to humans via food and environment. Hence, it is important to work with all stakeholders to ensure adoption of best practices in animal health. The use of antibiotics and other veterinary drugs in livestock or poultry should be as per the stipulated guidelines and limits for usage. Adoption of vaccination should be promoted and farmers should be educated about disclosed withdrawal periods. While animal origin foods are core component of meeting the growing protein requirement in the country, it is essential that we ensure an optimal environment is fostered for best practice adoption across various segments of animal husbandry.

Preventive Measures in Controlling the Export Rejections and Product Bans to Minimise the Losses for Exporters and Farmers:

Combination of trade policies and various preventive measures adopted by farmers and manufacturers can help in minimizing the export rejections or product bans.

All export oriented meat processing establishments are registered with APEDA and the registered units are inspected and issued health certificates for exports. Similarly for rice exports to certain export countries, there is requirement for registration of rice mills/processing units by Directorate of Plant Protection Quarantine & Standards. National Residue Control Plan (NRCP) is a statutory requirement for exporting to EU countries. The Export Inspection Council (EIC) of India is implementing NRCP through MPEDA in aquaculture products. EIC is also implementing Annual Residue Monitoring Plans (RMP) for export of Egg Products, Milk Products, fresh poultry meat & poultry meat products and honey to EU.

Preventive approaches by manufacturers such as the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point System (HACCP), can help in addressing food safety risks and also minimizing the chances of export rejections. Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs), Good Hygiene Practices (GHPs) and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) lay the foundation for food safety system.

Exporters and Indian farmers can implement the following measures to meet the International standards:

1. Good agricultural practices (GAP) at the farm level: practicing judicious usage of agrochemicals, usage of biofertilizers and safer pesticides etc. for catering to export markets

2. Improving the produce traceability

3. Upgrading their safety and quality systems, SOPs etc to meet the pre-compliance requirements for certain geographies

4. Adopting voluntary standards to instill confidence in their customers in different geographies, about their manufacturing / production practices

The Sky Greens System to Grow More Food in Less Space Novel Diagnostics and Vaccines:

Vaccines are essentially the first step in control of infectious diseases forming the prophylactic screen, while diagnostics is the first line in disease control once contracted. Thus,as the disease landscape evolves, it is highly important that both these fields evolve in tandem to be able to achieve effective disease control of emerging diseases. Today, effective diagnostic tools and vaccines are already in place for many zoonotic diseases such as rabies and brucellosis. Brucellosis is a great example where a multi-stakeholder approach between the DAHD, the DBT, academia and industry has contributed effective point of care diagnostic tools, the precursor to effectiveness of the control program rolled out by the Government. There is great need to promote wider adoption of point of care tests, create greater access to reliable testing tools, enhance sensitivity of tests currently available. There is also significant amount of work to be done in these fields for emerging diseases such as Kyasanur Forest Disease (KFD) and Bovine TB.

Zoonosis & Tuberculosis (TB):

Indian Context

While zoonosis itself is a poorly understood one health challenge today, with low awareness, the cognizance of issues like reverse zoonosis, where infectious diseases are transmitted from humans to animals, is abysmally low. Tuberculosis is one such deadly disease with both zoonotic and reverse zoonotic transmission. While the Mycobacterium Bovis strain originating in cattle can affect humans, the popular human TB strain, Mycobacterium tuberculosis also has the propensity to cause the disease in bovine species. While the problem calls for attention from animal health context, considering the national importance of dairy industry, the more important concern is the fact that affected animals remain a reservoir and carrier of the deadly disease. With the Indian government aspiring for a TB free India by 2025 through its End TB strategy, reverse zoonotic transmission is a serious concern that could affect this target and make the disease difficult to eradicate. It is thus important to give the animal transmission its due importance.

The authors can be reached at healthcare@sathguru.com*

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