Ecopathology is a systemic investigation approach to livestock health, which consists of studying the pathologies of farm animals in their environment, in order to establish the causes and identify the risk factors.
In ecopathology, the herd and its management are represented as an ecosystem, in which herd diseases are considered as products of the system, just like animal products. Health is therefore an indicator of the overall functioning of the system. The ecopathological approach consists of establishing the multi-factorial causes of diseases at the herd scale, by looking at the breeding environment as well as the farmer’s practices, such as the management of animal feeding. It allows a preventive approach to animal health. Some authors are bringing together ecopathology and agroecology by proposing the study of the health of agroecosystems as a framework for broader action of ecopathology at the level of agricultural systems.
Ecopathology has been developed in France since the 1970s, after the finding of the ineffectiveness of traditional veterinary investigation procedures to understand and control diseases affecting production in intensive farming. In the 1980s and 1990s, researchers from the animal ecopathology centre in Villeurbanne have implemented more participative approaches, based on cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary research groups, in order to better answer farmers’ questions and take into account the diversity of relevant knowledge (scientists, technicians, breeders) throughout the research and development process.
One of the limits to the development of scientific ecopathology is the cumbersomeness of the survey mechanisms, which require monitoring and long-time investment. Furthermore, the interdisciplinary and participatory approaches developed in the 1980s have had difficulty to find their place in the academic world of French scientific disciplines. Today ecopathology methodologies and concepts are mobilized at different levels in the spheres of agricultural and veterinary research (animal science of farming systems, epidemiology, ecosystems’ health) and development (veterinary collectives and organizations of veterinarians and farmers, which develop preventive approaches).
References to explore
Faye B.,Waltner-Toews D., McDermott J., 1997. From “Ecopathology” to “Agroecosystem Health”, Epidémiologie et Santé Animale, n° 31-32.