Lecture emphasises ‘One Health’ approach to livestock science and food systems

Lecture emphasises ‘One Health’ approach to livestock science and food systems

Livestock science matters, according to Professor Julie Fitzpatrick who gave the keynote at the recent George Scott Robertson Memorial Lecture at Queen’s University Belfast.

Pictured are (l-r): Dr Stanley McDowell, AFBI; Prof Sharon Huws, IGFS; Dr Alistair Carson, DAERA; Professor Julie Fitzpatrick, Moredun Institute; Mr David Brown, Ulster Farmers’ Union; Dr Elizabeth Magowan, AFBI; Prof Stuart Elborn, Queen’s University; Prof Nigel Scollan, IGFS.

Prof Fitzpatrick is chief scientific adviser for the Scottish government; science director of the Moredun Research Institute; and CEO of the Moredun Group. She is also chair in Food Security at the University of Glasgow.

In her keynote, Fitzpatrick said that livestock science matters not only for animal welfare, farming and the agrifood industry, but for diverse ‘grand challenges’ including climate change; biodiversity; reducing antimicrobial resistance; human health; and sustainable and safe food systems.

She addressed a full house of stakeholders at the GSR Lecture, which was hosted by the Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) at Queen’s University Belfast, in partnership with AFBI, DAERA and the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).

In a wide-ranging talk titled Livestock Science Matters for One Health, Prof Fitzpatrick spoke about the many synergies between farmers, vets, science researchers and policy-makers, falling under a ‘One Health’ umbrella. Using examples of vaccines and diagnostic tests developed by Moredun, she demonstrated how local communities and ‘knowledge exchange’ were crucial, for example in the rollout of a sheep-scab awareness and prevention programme she helped pioneer, which has lately been extended to almost 100 farms across Northern Ireland.

She also pointed out how animal health and welfare were imperative for tackling climate change and moving towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Healthier animals were more productive and meant reduced GHG emissions, she said. Sheep with worms, for example, had 10% higher emissions than healthy sheep; and cattle suffering Johne’s Disease emitted 25% more GHGs per litre of milk and 40% more per kg of beef than their disease-free counterparts, she added. 

Finally, knowledge exchange was the: “Springboard for the appliance of science,” she concluded, pointing out there was little point in top-quality research, development and even policy if: “We don’t work with farmers, vets and local communities” to implement it.

The lecture was introduced by David Brown, President of the UFU and rounded off with a panel/audience Q&A section. Along with Prof Fitzpatrick, panellists included NI Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Robert Huey; and the incoming President of the British Veterinary Association (NI), Dr Esther Skelly-Smith as well as well as Prof James Dooley from Ulster University and Prof Stuart Elborn from Queen’s University. 

Reflecting on the event, Professor Nigel Scollan, director of IGFS, said: “Prof Fitzpatrick delivered an inspiring and thought-provoking lecture, emphasising the need for inter-disciplinary collaborations and knowledge-exchange at all levels of society, not only to improve animal and human health, but also very importantly, planetary health.” 

Prof Elizabeth Magowan, director of Sustainable Agri-Food Sciences at AFBI, said: “In a world where we are heavily focused on ‘net zero’ at present, it was refreshing to see how effectively a one-health approach can address so many multiple challenges within society, from the health and wellbeing of animals and humans to the support of sustainable and resilient food systems as well as healthy, biodiverse ecosystems.”

Dr Alistair Carson, DAERA chief scientific adviser, said: “Prof Fitzpatrick’s lecture demonstrated her strong leadership in promoting collaborative science across disciplines which has led to significant breakthroughs for animal health and welfare, recognising the interconnection between livestock, people, plants and their shared environment.”

UFU president David Brown said: “Prof Fitzpatrick delivered a very insightful address, focusing heavily on innovation in many areas including vaccines, diagnostics, data science and communications. Only 6% of farms in NI do not keep cattle and sheep; for every other farm business, livestock is at its core. Animal welfare is critical to farm productivity therefore working with industry to put solutions on the table is key to ensuring a sustainable agriculture industry in NI while also protecting local food security.”

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