Responding to zoonotic and related diseases in intensifying livestock systems: diverse framings and pathways

A woman farms pigs in China

Emerging infectious diseases have become a cause of major public concern. Most of the new diseases in the last half century have come from animals, and many have reached humans through livestock. The intensification of livestock production is thought to make the problem worse.

This project explores how different groups understand these diseases, how they see intensification, what different pathways for the future can be envisaged and how these pathways can be opened up for broader consideration.

About intensification

Intensification of livestock production is often portrayed as a monolithic process, leading to larger units, employing more purchased feed and veterinary drugs and more uniform breeds. Closer to the ground, however, change is often very diverse. Producers may choose to take up more of certain elements and less of others, and pursue different objectives.

Intensification is seen as responsible for the emergence of certain high-profile diseases (eg BSE, highly pathogenic avian influenza). But there is much uncertainty over which aspects of intensification are responsible. This uncertainty leads to responses of limited effectiveness, but which can have disastrous consequences for people who depend on livestock for a living.


This project aims to understand

  • the nature of health threats from livestock intensification, and how people perceive these threats. (For example, national policy and global institutions are generally focused on emergent diseases, but this may divert attention away from re-emerging and persisting endemic diseases – less dramatic but often more constant threats. Mass culling programmes can also deprive producers of their livelihood, often without adequate compensation.)
  • the nature of intensification processes, and how they are perceived by different people.

The project focuses on the poorest area of China, Yunnan in the southwest, an area with a history of disease outbreaks and conflict, where pig production systems are changing rapidly. We are working with people involved in shaping these systems to help them reflect on the changing health burdens that intensification is helping to create, and the implications for policies and practices.

STEPS members working on this project:

Project partners:

Related Projects