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Climate change and animal health, welfare and production

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Ratification Date: 29 Jul 2016

Position statement

The Australian Veterinary Association supports the science of climate change and accepts that human activity is contributing to climate change.

Climate change is likely to negatively affect animal health and welfare. This will affect humans who rely on animal production systems that are vulnerable to climate change.

Veterinarians, by way of their unique knowledge and expertise, are able to play a key role in responding to the effects of climate change on animal health and welfare, and should be involved in the adoption of measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Policies and processes that promote sustainable practices that mitigate human contributions to climate change are supported.

Background

There is broad scientific consensus that human activity is now contributing significantly to this phenomenon of climate change. Both the rate of current change, and its impact, is reflective of human activity and the production of greenhouse gases. The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has reported that warming of the climate system is now ‘unequivocal’.1

Climate change is predicted to impact food supply and the geographical distribution and spread of diseases in animal and human populations.2

The veterinarian plays a key role in the planning and response to climate change in:

Vector-borne disease

Climate change will be a factor in the epidemiology of vector-borne diseases that will affect human and animal health.4,5,6 Increased regional temperatures and rain events that facilitate vector reproduction are likely to result in an increased incidence of such diseases and/or shifting geographical ranges,7,8 as well as increased risk from zoonotic diseases.

Food security and safety

The role of agriculture in the production of greenhouse gases is complex; cattle production contributes through methane production and yet can also mitigate change through carbon sequestration3. An increasing global population is creating an increased demand for livestock production for sources of income, protein and other resources. Veterinarians play an essential role in ensuring that this demand for food security does not negatively impact animal health and welfare.

Maximally efficient animal production relies on predictable weather patterns. The impact of climate change on Australian production systems will vary with region and production system. Climate change will have a greater effect on regions that are already sensitive to climatic variability. Modelling indicates that most animal-related production systems will be negatively impacted – locally, nationally and at a global level.9,10 Not only is food security an issue, but increasing temperatures are associated with an increased incidence of food-borne diseases.11 The risks to food safety from increasing global temperatures should not be ignored.12–14

Ecosystem health

Climate change will likely affect wildlife and ecosystems through: the physical impacts of climate-related natural disasters; effects on reproductive performance amongst climate sensitive-animals;5 shifting ranges of wildlife species;6 and species extinction caused by loss of climate-sensitive habitats.7

Animal welfare

Climate change leads to more extreme weather events such as droughts and increased incidence of natural disasters such as bushfires and floods, which can all significantly impact animal welfare. Research to develop mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from animals should always include consideration of any animal welfare implications and seek to avoid these.8

Recommendations

Veterinarians should support and participate in research on:

  • the impact of climate change on animal health, welfare and production
  • the impact of climate change on the environment, with a focus on native fauna
  • the potential for spread of arboviruses, henipaviruses and other zoonotic diseases as a consequence of climate change
  • pasture growth, animal production and nutrition in a changing environment
  • adaptation practices to help provide data for policy development
  • mitigation practices that minimise the human contribution to climate change.

In addition, veterinarians, because of their training and expertise, should engage with the community to build awareness of the effect of climate change on animal health and welfare as well as zoonoses and public health. This would include contributing to disease surveillance activities, raising awareness of the challenges of feeding a growing human population with increasing production costs, and promoting sustainable agricultural practices in a changing climate.

Governments should recognise and respond to the effect of climate change on animal health, welfare, the environment and agricultural sustainability. This includes employing a sustainable veterinary workforce that has the capacity to respond to altered distribution of diseases as well as impacts on animal welfare and production.

Other relevant policies

Emergency animal management.

References

  1. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate change 2013: the physical science basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker TF, Qin D et al]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK/New York, USA, 2013;1535.
  2. Porter JR, Xie L, Challinor AJ et al. Food security and food production systems. In: Climate change 2014: impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. Part A: global and sectoral aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Field CB, Barros VR, Dokken DJ et al, editors. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK/New York, USA, 2014; 485–533.
  3. Gerber PJ, Steinfeld H, Henderson B et al. Tackling climate change through livestock: a global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, 2013. http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3437e/i3437e.pdf
  4. Campbell-Lendrum D, Manga L, Bagayoko M et al. Climate change and vector-borne diseases: what are the implications for public health research and policy? Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 2015;370. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2013.0552
  5. Wittmann EJ, Baylis M. Climate change: effects on culicoides-transmitted viruses and implications for the UK. Vet J 2000;160:107–117.
  6. Simon F, Siles-Lucas M, Morchon R et al. Human and animal dirofilariasis: the emergence of a zoonotic mosaic. Clin Microbiol Rev 2012;25:507–544.
  7. Genchi C, Rinaldi L, Mortarino M et al. Climate and Dirofilaria infection in Europe. Vet Parasitol 2009;163:286–292.
  8. Geoghegan JL, Walker PJ, Duchemin JB et al. Seasonal drivers of the epidemiology of arthropod-borne viruses in Australia. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 2014;8:e3325. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0003325
  9. Gunasekera D, Kim Y, Tulloh C et al. Climate change: impacts on Australian agriculture. Australian Commodities: Forecasts and Issues 2007;14:657–676 [online].
  10. Grace D, Bett B, Lindahl J et al. Climate and livestock disease: assessing the vulnerability of agricultural systems to livestock pests under climate change scenarios. CCAFS Working Paper no. 116. CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). Copenhagen, Denmark, 2015. www.ccafs.cgiar.org
  11. El-Fadel M, Ghanimeh S, Maroun R et al. Climate change and temperature rise: implications on food- and water-borne diseases. Sci Total Environ 2012;437:15–21.
  12. Tirado MC, Clarke R, Jaykus LA et al. Climate change and food safety: a review. Food Res Int 2010;43:1745–1765. http://ucanr.edu/datastorefiles/608–149.pdf
  13. Jaykuss LA, Woolridge M, Frank JM et al. Climate change: implications for food safety. A consultation paper. Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, Rome, 2008.
  14. Hall GV, D’Souza RM, Kirk MD. Foodborne disease in the new millennium: out of the frying pan and into the fire? Med J Aust 2002;177:614–618.
  15. Holleley CE, O’Meally D, Sarre SD et al. Sex reversal triggers the rapid transition from genetic to temperature-dependent sex. Nature 2015;523:79–82.
  16. Baltensperger AP, Huettmann F. Predicted shifts in small mammal distributions and biodiversity in the altered future environment of Alaska: an open access data and machine learning perspective. PLoS One 2015;10:e0132054. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0132054
  17. Urban MC. Climate change. Accelerating extinction risk from climate change. Science 2015;348:571–573.
  18. Shields S, Orme-Evans G. The impacts of climate change mitigation strategies on animal welfare. Animals 2015; 5:361–391. http://www.mdpi.com/2076–2615/5/2/361/htm

Further reading

Australian Medical Association. Position Statement on climate change. https://ama.com.au/position-statement/ama-position-statement-climate-change-and-human-health-2004-revised-2015

Garnaut R. The Garnaut climate change review: final report. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 2008.

Moir B, Morris P. Global food security: facts, issues and implications. In: Science and economic insights. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, 2011. http://data.daff.gov.au/data/warehouse/pe_abares99010538/SEI1_2011GlobalFoodSecurityReport.pdf

Steinfeld H, Gerber P, Wassenaar T et al. Livestock’s long shadow: environmental issues and options. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy, 2006.