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Animal Health at the Crossroads: Preventing, Detecting, and Diagnosing Animal Diseases
3–4 percent of the value of animal production in agriculture is routinely lost to animal diseases (Hennessy et al., 2005) including the cost of prevention. Another estimate suggests that the losses might be even higher: up to 18 percent of the annual farm gate value of animal commodities, costing production agriculture and the U.S. economy billions of dollars each year (FAIR, 2002). A study of livestock diseases in the United Kingdom estimates a range in the costs of losses from disease relative to the costs of treatment and prevention measures (Bennett, 2003). In that study, mastitis in dairy cattle ranked the highest in terms of direct costs from losses (over £120 million or nearly $200 million dollars, in 1996 values), while prevention expenditures were estimated to be £4 million, or $6.6 million dollars.
The financial investment to prevent disease may be far less than the losses in value should a disease occur, particularly when losses include not only the cost to producers and associated industries, but also the value of social welfare such as the loss of food and other products, or the loss of a companion or zoo animal.
However, for several reasons, the general public is unaware of the full costs of disease. First, a large and growing percentage of the general population is increasingly removed from a basic understanding of agriculture, its links with animal health, and related sectors (Whitener and McGranahan, 2003). A lack of personal experience or knowledge about animal production may lead the general public (consumers) to undervalue efforts required to prevent animal diseases, or to recognize that losses from disease may be reflected in higher costs for food, recreation, or health care. When the public is not aware of these costs, they (consumers, business) will underestimate the value of prevention, detection, and diagnosis (Colorado State University and Farm Foundation, 2003; Sumner, 2003).
The public understanding of the purposes and the need for animal research and for disease prevention measures might also be affected by societal attitudes toward animals that have been fostered by animal activists. Public education and ongoing risk communication with the general public improve the ability of consumers to make appropriate decisions and build support for national animal disease management efforts. Research on effective methods and tools of risk communication would make an important contribution to building an effective animal health infrastructure.
The current animal health framework was built on animal management practices, economic impacts, and societal norms that are no longer