Bridging the Gaps in Livestock Traceability: The role of the FAO

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On the 23rd of April 2015 in Pretoria, South Africa there was a symposium hosted by the FAO to improve the traceability and livestock development of Sub-Saharan Africa of which delegates from 30 countries attended. I was lucky enough to be invited to Rome by one of the lead consultants of the animal health division and genetic animal resources branch to discuss their departments role in the project.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) along with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organization (WHO) make up the tripod of bodies that set the standards for global health, agriculture and animal production. The FAO’s Animal Production and Health Division (AGA) is a source of technical expertise that contributes to the control of transboundary diseases and so are the leading consultants in food security when animal movements and tagging are to be considered.

View from the roof of the FAO

The humidity of Rome during September was a surprise, especially as the summer back in Edinburgh had been relatively non-existent. While those living here would have acclimatised from the hot summer that had just passed, I hoped to keep my composure while the sensation of being wrapped in a damp towel set in as I approached the FAO from the steps of the Metro station. Once through security I was met by the consultant I was here to visit and was given a brief guided tour of the FAO headquarters.

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The importance of such a wide scale project was laid out simply as the necessity of accepting the Pretoria Declaration would allow Sub-Saharan African nations to reduce disease outbreaks, allow for international meat export and reduce livestock theft. While there would be no uniformed way of tagging animals, be it through ear tags or microchips, there can at least be a guideline set to bring tagging into ever nation that signed up to the declaration. The simple reason being that each country has a different level of advancement in this area, with Namibia and Botswana having the necessary level of animal identification already attained, but for it to be entirely different to what is used in other well developed agricultural systems such as in South Africa.

Why the long face?

What was apparent from the project outline was the speed to create a basic level of identification in all of the nations that signed up in order to make Africa competitive in the market of animal breeding and consumption. I wholeheartedly agree with this as after spending over a year in South Africa and Botswana, I have never tasted beef that has come close in comparison. To release this potential into the international stage will allow Africa to further its agricultural development and create a uniform method to reduce associated problems such as livestock theft and transboundary animal diseases.

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The experience allowed me to speak with those about pertinent global issues while being frequently impressed by the city of Rome and its gripping history.

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