Recently Keith Howe mentioned in his blog that it has become customary to speak of the economics of animal health as learning about ‘tools’. He emphasized the importance of critical thinking and understanding of economic theory when structuring an animal health problem for economic analysis. So I started to think about the evidence provided by literature in the economics of animal health, and whether the foundations of economics applied to animal health needs to be fortified.
My view is based on the literature review which we, the NEAT network, conducted last year. The review covered approximately 850 mainly peer-reviewed publications found in reference databases and other directories, screened and classified. It was a real group effort, because approximately 30 persons contributed to the process. Economics is actually mentioned in a much larger number of publications, but often it is just a discussion matter in the introduction or conclusion section rather than an economic analysis.
After familiarizing with the literature, there seems to be a limited number of publications which use in-depth methods to improve our capacity to understand stakeholders' behavior. The review supports the view that there is indeed a need to strengthen “economics” in the economics of animal health. Having said this, it must be recognized that there are a number of excellent publications which have merited by introducing new economic aspects or applications to the literature on animal health.
In general, there is some inconsistency in approach and that hampers the ability to compare studies. Although many studies are problem-oriented and specific conditions play a role, it also varies which aspects are taken into account in a study. A sign of inconsistency can also be that the data and methods are described and terminology used in a non-standardized way. This may reflect differences in approaches, but it may also reflect a lack of consistent education in the economics of animal health. The educational background of people specializing in the economics of animal health is quite heterogeneous. Hence, people may to tend emphasize issues that they are familiar with and this may result in different ways to represent a similar topic.
One possibility to improve the situation is to simplify things and to focus on the core (economic) issues, but it isn’t one-size-fits-all solution. In one case it can be useful to formulate problem in a simple manner whereas in another case it may lead to economics being superficial or technical calculations which merely put some of the costs together.
Approaches used to analyze economic issues in animal health have evolved during the past two decades. Especially around the millennium, simulation, review and structured discussion were common approaches in scientific papers. This can be seen for instance in relatively large number of publications with generic or multiple-disease focus. The review suggests that there has been a gradual shift of emphasis from normative to positive research approach. In other words, it has become more common to examine economic problems in animal health by using specific empirical datasets instead of approaches such as simulation modeling. New approaches to analyze economics of animal health have also been taken into use. Partly these changes are due to a gradual change in topics studied. Probably the quality and the availability of data have also improved and contributed to the development. Nevertheless, many approaches used in the general economics are still largely unused among the practitioners of economics of animal health.
There is a geographical bias in publications. The majority of publications (about two thirds) in our sample were focusing on European or Northern American problems. However, according to FAO, Asia alone contributes to the gross value of world’s livestock production by the share of 42% which is more than the contribution of Europe and North America altogether. Species-wise bovines were covered the by 48% of publication in our sample, of which one-third were multiple-species publications. Poultry are less well represented despite the fact that they contribute 25% to the global value of animal production. In the poultry sector there is a great variety of different forms of production, ranging from backyard production to large-scale industrial facilities. Poultry sector could be a nice test bed for many economic problems, because poultry are easy to move and they are managed by both specialist and non-specialist people and with various scales of operation.
The review suggests that more attention on endemic diseases, poultry and pigs, Eastern Europe and Asia could be warranted. Much of the literature seems to focus on OIE-listed highly contagious animal diseases such as foot and mouth disease, classical swine fever or avian influenza. This may be due to the fact that governments play an important role both in funding research and in combating these diseases. However, also endemic diseases such as mastitis, BVD or Johne’s disease, and food safety hazards such as salmonella and BSE have been studied frequently.
The factsheet highlighting the survey is available at the NEAT website.
Author: Jarkko Niemi