In many cases, poultry health around the globe was and still is a matter of preventing and treating diseases. Proper management practices play a vital role here. Still, much work in this field needs be done. Professor Hafez looks ahead and predicts how poultry healthcare and hygiene will evolve in the next 25 years.
By Prof. Dr. Hafez Mohamed Hafez, Institute of Poultry Diseases, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Free University Berlin, Berlin, Germany
The modern poultry industry aims at high production and better quality at a low cost. This, in addition to an increase in the demand for poultry meat and eggs, necessitates constant, efficient and goal-oriented healthcare to prevent the development of diseases. In the future several challenges and problems, in addition to the ones already existing, will face everybody involved in the production chain. These will include: strong global competition; changes in social, political and consumer perceptions in regard to food safety and animal welfare; increase of environmental protection issues; a steady increase in the cost of feed; the emergence of new and unforeseen diseases, and; new legislation that will serve to regulate the related issues.
Poultry production in the future will be aimed at: ensuring a sustained high level of safe food; improving the rearing practices toward better animal welfare; minimising environmental pollution, and; preventing and/or reducing the incidence of diseases.
The loss of consumer confidence and trust in the quality and safety of poultry meat and poultry products will remain a major challenge. Many human foodborne bacterial diseases are linked to poultry, since poultry can harbour different pathogens, such as Salmonella and Campylobacter. Control and/or elimination of these organisms present a great challenge.
The development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria, which is common in both animals and humans, will also be a continuous public health hazard. Also, animal welfare issues will increase. It is often assumed that poultry health problems might be caused by genetic selection, rearing and management practices within the poultry industry. According to a published report on a new Animal Health Strategy for the European Union (2007 - 2013), the concept of animal health covers not only the absence of disease in animals, but also the relationship between the health of animals and their welfare. It will also take into account social, economic and ethical considerations, as well as support the achievement of a high level of environmental protection.
Strong global competition and varying production costs in various regions will lead to an increase in the global movement of poultry and poultry products. This, however, increases the risk of introducing diseases to areas that are now considered to be free from such diseases. The steady increase in the cost of feed will accelerate this process. In addition, the increase of biofuel and biogas production will reduce the available land for food grains and feed production, leading to a considerable increase of feed costs for animal production. Climatic changes and limited water resources also need to be seriously considered, which will have an influence on the cost of production. In the future, the feed industry will also be forced to take more responsibility not only for the quality of the feed ingredients, but also to ensure that no poultry pathogens and unwanted contaminants and residues are present in the feed.
Poultry diseases will remain a major challenge to the industry. Once an outbreak of a given diseases occurs, it can explode into an epidemic and may have a significant negative effect on trade in a specific country, a continent or even globally. Additionally, only a few authorised pharmaceutical veterinary products will be available for the treatment of poultry as food producing animals.
Disease prevention will focus mainly on sound planning and management practices that prevent the introduction and spread of infectious diseases in the first place, and avoid non-infectious factors before they begin. This includes monitoring the health status of the flock, as well as limiting exposure to infectious agents through biosecurity, cleaning and disinfection, vaccination and supportive therapy.
Early recognition, surveillance and monitoring programmes will intensify. In the next 25 years, improvements in laboratory diagnosis, such as diagnostic micro array and other technology, will allow faster, more sensitive and more accurate diagnosis of infectious diseases, and early interventions will become a reality.
Progressive vaccine production
Vaccination is regarded as one of the most beneficial biopharmaceutical interventions due to its ability to induce protection against infectious diseases through targeted activation of the immune system. Many valuable new vaccine production technologies have been developed as a result of rapid progress in various areas. The use of future progressive vaccine production technologies, such as recombinant, subunit, reverse genetic and nucleic acid vaccines, can significantly reduce the cost of vaccines, ensure better efficacy, and allow easy and rapid intervention to face the steady mutation of the micro organisms. Furthermore, the development of efficient vaccines against bacterial infections will lead to a reduction of the use of antibiotics and subsequently of the development of resistant bacteria.
Also, findings on the pathogenic mechanisms of bacteria will help to improve the treatment of bacterial infections, and instead of non-specific antibiotic therapy, new drugs will able to target the signalling mechanisms, which are able to disrupt the pathogenic effects of the pathogen bacteria.
Selective breeding to improve production traits and health is a long-standing goal of our industry. The desire to enhance breeding strategies through the use of molecular techniques (genetic linkage maps) will lead to the characterisation of genome structure and genes that are associated with production traits and disease susceptibility and resistance. This will allow us to select bird lines that are genetically resistant to several pathogens.
In addition, improvement of rearing technology, management and nutrition will help to maintain bird comfort. Since the success of a disease control programme depends on farm and personal sanitation, incorporated education programmes about micro-organisms, modes of transmission as well as awareness of the reasons behind such programmes by people involved in poultry production will be more intensified.
In the future, global cooperation and trade will force governments to harmonise existing legislation relating to trade, animal disease control, animal nutrition, as well as the licensing of drugs and vaccines for veterinary use.
And finally, consumer expectations for high quality poultry products will strongly influence future production methods. This means that farmers, veterinarians, stockholders and all other partners involved in the production chain need to share more responsibilities. Cooperation amongst stakeholders will certainly be intensified.