The production of healthy livestock will be the cornerstone of the future sustainability of the UK livestock industry, according to a ‘white paper’ published recently by MSD Animal Health.

The paper, ‘Healthy livestock produce sustainable food’, argued that healthy animals maximised production for each unit of input, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and would give the industry a competitive advantage in a global market.

“The farming industry has worked hard in recent years to improve animal health and welfare, reduce antimicrobial use and improve consumer trust, all while driving productivity,” said Dr Paul Williams, MSD Animal Health’s technical manager (ruminants) and paper co-author. “However, the paper highlighted that in order to achieve long-term sustainability, including economic viability, environmental responsibility and social acceptability, animal health is critical.

The argument goes that a healthy animal produced a higher yield per unit of input, whilst having increased overall productivity and lifespan, resulting in a smaller carbon footprint than an unhealthy animal, said Dr Williams.

“For example, infectious bovine rhinotracheitis [IBR] costs the cattle industry £200 per sub-clinically infected cow, while increasing greenhouse gas emissions per kg of energy corrected milk by 8%. Meanwhile, porcine respiratory and reproductive syndrome [PRRS] can decrease gross margins by 12 to 74% on pig farms and reduce annual output by 15%, resulting in increased resource use per unit produced.

“These are significant costs to both productivity and the environment, that can be avoided through improved animal health,” he pointed out. “The UK has one of the most advanced farming industries in the world and we’ve seen a marked reduction in antimicrobial use as a result of industry benchmarking. However, it is estimated that 20% of animal production worldwide is lost as a result of disease.

“To continue to meet the challenge of improving health and productivity, it’s important that we emulate these benchmarks with animal health, disease prevention and sustainability at the heart. By putting best-in-class practice, such as high standards of biosecurity and stockmanship, and using vaccination to protect against future infection at the top of the agenda, the rewards will be seen far beyond the farmgate,” he argued.

  • The white paper is co-authored by Dr Williams and Dr Jude Capper, a livestock sustainability consultant, and copies are available at