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Alternet conference

Biodiversity, Sustainable food systems, and Prevention of zoonotic disease emergence

Juliette Young, Senior scientist, ecology and political sciences, INRAE (left) and Eeva Furman, director of the Environmental Policy Center at the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE)
“Transformative Changes for Biodiversity and Health”: Under this title, Alternet Europe, the network bringing together leading research institutes from 21 European countries, held a conference on June 14-17, 2022, in Ghent (Belgium). It gathered around 150 participants from various backgrounds – scientists, experts, NGOs, and policy specialists- to discuss nature-based solutions.

PREZODE hosted a full session linking sustainable food systems and biodiversity with zoonotic disease emergence. Eeva Furman, Serge Morand, Juliette Young,  Jean-Luc Guérin, and Mariette Ducatez addressed their views on the topic and discussed solutions to conciliate biodiversity and sustainable food systems while reducing the risks of emergence of zoonotic disease.

PREZODE’s meeting had three main purposes:

  • bringing together a community of scientists around a One Health approach in the field of biodiversity, sustainable food systems, and management of zoonotic risk;
  • raising the importance of biodiversity for sustainable and low-risk food systems;
  • encouraging public policy regarding land use and food system management.

Jean-Luc Guérin, Professor of poultry and avian pathology, Director of the Host-Pathogen Interaction Joint unit at INRAE, and Mariette Ducatez, Research director at INRAE, addressed a keynote speech on “Ecology of avian viruses: from birds to man, the challenge of biosecurity in food systems". They presented their findings on avian flu in various areas and regions of the world, pointing out the expansion of variants and the difficulties in preventing spillover. Speaking about the conflict between the demand of consumers for outdoor raised poultry animals’ protection from natural environment threats, Jean-Luc Guérin underlined the need to shift production to reduce intense models of production in priority zones (hot spots). He also pointed out that the improvement of common knowledge (of farmers, of citizens …) would ease and facilitate transformation.

Mariette Ducatez presented a variety of disease cases in poultry populations in different locations in Africa, highlighting the interactions of domestic animals and the environment, as well as transportation and trade conditions, which increase the risks of contamination.

WhatsApp Image 2022-06-22 at 15.34.43

Remotely: Jean-Luc Guérin, Professor of Poultry and Avian Pathology, Director of the Host-Pathogen Interaction Joint unit at INRAE. 

A roundtable gathered Eeva Furman, former director of the Environmental Policy Center at the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), Serge Morand, researcher, specialist in biodiversity and disease ecology, member of the One Health High-Level Expert Panel, Juliette Young, senior scientist with a mixed background in ecology and political sciences at INRAE, and Jean-Luc Guérin to exchange on the topic: “Reconciling biodiversity and prevention of zoonotic disease emergence in sustainable food systems”. All the speakers agreed that the interdisciplinarity advocated by the One Health concept is key to implementing sustainable food systems that promote biodiversity and limit the risk of zoonotic emergence.

For Eeva Furman, the prevention issue underlines the importance of a strong connection between human and natural microbiota, which needs to be ensured with efficient physical contact, especially during the first 1000 days. In a matter of responses to infectious diseases, besides practical and technical solutions (vaccines, culling), we need to safeguard ecosystem functions and enable human contact with nature in growing cities, thus taking a planetary health approach.

Juliette Young shared her experience working on Kyasanur Forest Disease (KFD) in Southern India. She explained how a participatory approach with the community together with the involvement of the stakeholders enabled sustainable solutions and more efficient surveillance adapted to the economic and cultural context.

Serge Morand reported his practice in working with a community in Thailand facing zoonotic diseases mostly associated with rodents. Biodiversity protection and reduction of zoonosis emergence are closely linked. Land-based solutions such as reforestation programs seem to help reduce the risk of infection. Moreover, there is no point in asking people to understand science values without asking scientists to understand the knowledge and values of all other stakeholders. This is a necessary step to get the community’s and administration’s engagement and to move toward "sharing" knowledge.

Jean-Luc Guérin explained how research can help understand which main drivers lead viruses to change and their variants to infect different areas and practices of poultry production all over the world.

The conference also gave the opportunity to Helena Ladreyt, epidemiologist, veterinary public health officer, and Elisa Bohin, veterinary public health officer, to present the outputs of PREZODE's co-construction workshops held in 2021 and 2022.

More information : 

Alternet Conference webpage