‘One Health’: An opportunity to reconfigure food systems for human, animal and planetary health

Jul 6, 2021 | 1 comment

Alongside a human and ecological health crisis we confront an animal health crisis: Approximately 70 billion animals are farmed for food worldwide every year (60% of all mammals on Earth),[i] the majority of which are produced under intensive livestock production systems with little, if any, animal welfare standards. These systems drive the increased use of antibiotics and are connected to the emergence of a range of zoonotic diseases, diminishing animal health, exacerbating the human health crisis, and contributing to the ecological health crisis. According to a 2021 Chatham House report, launched in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme and Compassion in World Farming, the production of food is the primary cause of biodiversity loss globally – driven by the conversion of land for agriculture and the intensification of agriculture reducing the quality and quantity of available wildlife habitats.[ii]

The Covid-19 crisis has shone a spotlight on food and health like no other crisis has done in living memory – it has revealed the fragility and vulnerability of our food systems to sudden external shocks.  It illustrates how the health of ecosystems and health of animals can have a direct bearing on human health and well-being. Driven by unsustainable food systems, the large-scale conversion of forests for agriculture, intensive industrial livestock systems and the increasing interactions between wildlife, livestock, and humans, we have witnessed and the emergence of a range of zoonotic diseases, including Covid-19. An estimated 60% of known infectious diseases and up to 75% of new or emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic in origin.[iii] Other zoonoses can cause recurring disease outbreaks, such as Ebola virus, Rift Valley fever and Salmonellosis (a bacterial disease caused by species of the Salmonella bacteria). Some, such as SARS, avian influenza and more recently such as Covid-19, cause global pandemics.[iv] It is estimated that zoonoses are responsible for 2.5 billion cases of human illness and 2.7 million human deaths worldwide each year.[v] Global efforts to manage diseases originating in animals and prevent loss of human life cost an estimated US$ 120 billion globally between 1995 and 2008.[vi]

AMR is a major global health and development threat and declared one of the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity.[vii] Resistance to drugs occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites change over time due to the exposure to antimicrobials and no longer respond to medicines, making infections harder to treat and increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness and death. At least 700,000 people die each year due to drug-resistant diseases.[viii] The use of antimicrobials to promote growth and routinely prevent disease in healthy farmed animals, without good agricultural practices to prevent infectious diseases on farms, is contributing to the development and spread of antimicrobial resistance.[ix] Antibiotics are sometimes used in the livestock industry as growth promoters and are prophylactically used for maintaining herd health. These antibiotics are then excreted from treated livestock/fisheries and end up in the wider environment contaminating soils, water courses and seas, thereby contributing to the selection of resistant strains of bacteria infecting humans. The aquaculture sector also contributes to the AMR reservoir through the administration of therapeutic and prophylactic treatment to fish to treat diseases and boost growth rates.[x] Antimicrobial use in livestock production is projected to increase by 67% between 2010 and 2030, to about 3,605 tonnes annually.[xi]

2021 offers a unique opportunity to build forward a more compassionate, resilient, fairer, healthier, and sustainable food systems with better human, ecological and animal health outcomes central to economic stimulus packages and policies that governments put in place to support recovery.

What is a One Health  Approach?

 ‘One Health’ is often defined as ‘an approach to designing and implementing programmes, policies, legislation and research in which multiple sectors communicate and work together to achieve better public health outcomes.’[xii] Traditionally areas of work in which a One Health approach is relevant includes the control of Zoonotic diseases (Diseases and infections that are naturally transmitted between vertebrate animals and humans. A zoonotic agent may be a bacterium, a virus, a fungus and includes flu, rabies, rift valley fever, Ebola etc) and combatting antibiotic resistance (when bacteria change after being exposed to antibiotics and become more difficult to treat). One Health as a concept has gained significant traction in national and international settings and many actors highlight the opportunity it offers to strengthen interdisciplinary collaboration and action.

Last week I curated a Food Systems Summit dialogue event entitled ‘One Health, One Welfare: Food Systems Opportunities for Better Human, Animal and Ecological Health and Well-Being’  where over 130 participants discussed the key limitations, barriers, and opportunities for taking a One Health approach. In brief, I highlight a number of benefits and opportunities presented by a One Health approach as highlighted by participants:

  • There are significant opportunities to focus and build narratives around the interlinkages between animal welfare (health), ecosystem health and human health. Some participants feared governments may squander the opportunity.
  • In some countries there is increasing political will. E.g., the French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation and the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs launched PREZODE (PREventing ZOonotic Diseases Emergence), a new initiative to prevent future pandemics.
  • To move One Health beyond a theoretical concept into something that is practical and tangible.
  • There is an opportunity for a universally agreed definition of One Health, the principles that underpin it, and a framework, which can be adapted to meet the needs according to geography and culture.
  • There is a need for a One Health Systems approach that identifies those systemic interventions which address the root causes and underlying determinants which lead to better animal, human and ecosystem health outcomes.
  • There is a need to broaden the application of the One Health approach and encompass a broader range of ecologically mediated diseases, such as encompassing the agendas of AMR, malnutrition, epidemic preparedness, integrated surveillance systems, environmental health, food systems and food safety – which are all driven by and dependent on healthy ecosystems and animal health and well-being.
  • One Health presents an opportunity to understand how people value food, nature and a sense of place and avoid potentially damaging and polarising debates. There is often more that unites people across sectors, cultures etc. than divides them.
  • The need to incorporate environmental determinants in One Health policy and the links between One Health, Climate Change, and nature-based solutions. (Agroecological and regenerative forms of agricultural practice)

During the event we heard from a number of external speakers:

Doreen Robinson, Head of Biodiversity & Land (Ecosystems Division) for the United Nations Environment Programme, said: “The reality is, we aren’t achieving our food production or our food security goals, and we’re doing so at the sacrifice of our natural world.” She went on to explain that we must work with nature, not against it, to meet our food production needs.

Jeremy Pivor, Senior Program Coordinator for Planetary Health Alliance, added that: “We must have the right diagnosis to prescribe the right treatment,” making the point that we need to fully understand the root of the climate and biodiversity crisis, and how it relates to human well-being and animal welfare, before we can begin to determine the appropriate steps to solve it.

Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, Founder and CEO of Conservation Through Public Health, explained how her organisation is using the One Health approach to promote gorilla conservation and public health by teaching people to be healthy and hygienic, and encouraging the development of sustainable agriculture.

Philip Lymbery, UN Food Systems Summit Champion and CIWF Global CEO concluded by saying ‘ The conversation that we’ve all had this afternoon…shows that ‘One Health, One Welfare’ is an absolutely essential component of a decent food system that delivers a liveable future for all of us, be us people or animals, on this one planet we all call home.’

To watch highlights of the dialogue visit a recording of the webinar here.


[i] Yinon M. Bar-On, Rob Phillips, Ron Milo. 2018.The biomass distribution on Earth Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jun 2018, 115 (25) 6506-6511; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1711842115

[ii] https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/2021-02/2021-02-03-food-system-biodiversity-loss-benton-et-al_0.pdf (accessed 14th June 2021)

[iii] Salyer, S. J., Silver, R., Simone, K., & Barton Behravesh, C. 2017. Prioritizing Zoonoses for Global Health Capacity Building-Themes from One Health Zoonotic Disease Workshops in 7 Countries, 2014-2016. Emerging infectious diseases, 23(13), S55–S64. https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2313.170418

[iv] WHO. 2020. Zoonosis factsheet. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/zoonoses (accessed 14th June 2021)

[v] Gebreyes WA, Dupouy-Camet J, Newport MJ, Oliveira CJ, Schlesinger LS, Saif YM, et al.2014.The global One Health paradigm: challenges and opportunities for tackling infectious diseases at the human, animal, and environment interface in low-resource settings. PLoS Negl Trop Dis.8:e3257. 10.1371/journal.pntd.0003257

[vi] A. Cascio, M. Bosilkovski, A.J. Rodriguez-Morales, G. Pappas. 2011. The socio-ecology of zoonotic infections, Clinical Microbiology and Infection,Volume 17, Issue 3,Pages 336-342,ISSN 1198-743X,


[vii] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/antimicrobial-resistance (accessed 14th June 2021

[viii] IACG. 2019. No time to wait: Securing the future from drug-resistant infections. https://www.who.int/antimicrobial-resistance/interagency-coordination-group/IACG_final_report_EN.pdf?ua=1 (accessed 14th June 2021)

[ix] World Organization for Animal Health. 2018. Annual report on antimicrobial agents intended for use in animals. https://www.who.int/antimicrobial-resistance/interagency-coordination-group/IACG_final_report_EN.pdf?ua=1 (accessed 14th June 2021)

[x] Reverter, M., Sarter, S., Caruso, D. et al. 2020. Aquaculture at the crossroads of global warming and antimicrobial resistance. Nat Commun 11, 1870.https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-15735-6

[xi] Van Boeckel TP, Brower C, Gilbert M,Grenfell BT, Levin SA, Robinson TP, et al. 2015. Global trends in antimicrobial use in food animals. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A..112(18):5649–54.

[xii] https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/one-health (accessed 14th June 2021)

30620cookie-check‘One Health’: An opportunity to reconfigure food systems for human, animal and planetary health

Written By Tasting the Future

Mark Driscoll is a freelance sustainable food systems consultant focussing on food systems transformation initiatives. He works with businesses, funders and civil society organisations on a range of food systems projects. This includes research work, strategy & policy development, project management and media work. He is a passionate advocate and champion of food systems transformation which gives citizens access to healthy and nutritious foods within environmental limits.

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1 Comment

  1. Sustain | sustain-blog.com

    Food for human, animal and planetary health will important for testing the future. Thank you 😊


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