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Due to the coronavirus crisis, the connection between human and animal health has gained new attention. Politicians and scientists are joining forces to propagate the solution: One Health. But what is behind the concept? And can it also guarantee food security for all people worldwide?
The health of people, (wild) animals and the environment are interrelated. That is the philosophy behind the ‘One Health’ concept. People and animals share many pathogens (zoonoses). Just like Covid-19, which also originated from an animal. But zoonoses are only one part of ‘One Health’. After all, human health depends on the environment in many other ways besides contagious diseases that are transmitted. Noncommunicable diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, as well as nutritional and mental well-being also depend on our environment. A healthy environment in turn includes a prosperous biodiversity. It provides clean air, clean water, modern and traditional medicines, climate regulation and safe food supplies.
Malnutrition is the biggest contributor to human diseases worldwide, regardless of whether people live in developing countries or not. It is estimated that two billion people are deficient in one or more micronutrients.
The global decline in biodiversity and the number of pollinators is having a major impact on agricultural productivity and food security, and thus on human health.
A healthy, balanced diet requires a variety of foods to provide the full range of necessary nutrients. Diversity within staple foods often makes the difference between adequate nutrition and nutrient deficiency.
Biodiversity is a prerequisite for food diversity and provides a natural wealth of nutrients (macronutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats; and micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals) for a healthy human diet. Species-rich environments provide more animal feed, more fishery products and better pest control (e.g. through more insectivorous animal species). Biodiversity also reinforces important ecosystem services that are essential for food production, such as soil fertility and plant pollination.
Pollinators (insects as well as mammals such as bats) play an important role in the production of about one third of the world’s food supply. Pollination also affects the quantity, nutrient content, quality and diversity of available food. The global decline in biodiversity and the number of pollinators is having a major impact on agricultural productivity and food security, and thus on human health.
Biodiversity provides the foundation for productivity and resilience of agricultural and other ecological systems. However, land use change and agriculture are the predominant causes of biodiversity loss because 33% of the land area and about 75% of freshwater resources are used for food production (plants and livestock). Around one million species could disappear within the next few decades if the condition of our ecosystems continues to deteriorate. Agriculture and biodiversity are highly interdependent, which needs to be more widely recognised and supported with appropriate political and economic framework conditions for sustainable agricultural practices.
Biodiversity is the foundation of our food supply and is thus a key factor for human health. The mutual interrelations between humans and the environment must be taken into account in order to safeguard public health. The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrates the added value of a transdisciplinary and cross-sectoral approach like ‘One Health’. If used properly, it could prevent epidemics and even protect human health on a broader scale.