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EU’s innovation in animal health, key to averting future food and health crises

Experts highlight knock on effect of animal health on trade and call for science-based standard.

Declan O Brien and Alejandro Bernal

At the IFAH-Europe Conference 2012 in Brussels on 21 June 2012, -from left to right Declan O’Brien, Managing Director of IFAH-Europe, and Alejandro Bernal, Chairman of IFAH-Europe

Europe benefits from the highest animal health standards in the world. Such was the consensus among stakeholders working in food safety, food supply and animal health at the annual conference of the International Federation of Animal Health in Europe (IFAH-Europe). The event, which attracted a 150 strong audience to the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel in Brussels, explored the role and contribution of animal health to Europe’s food safety.

Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, Executive Director of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) kicked off the discussions taking stock of Europe’s food safety over the past ten years. Geslain-Lanéelle assured the audience that Europe enjoys one of the best food safety systems in the world, supported by comprehensive scientific advice from farm to fork, including animal health and welfare.

Alejandro Bernal, Chairman of IFAH-Europe, explained how Europe has been successful in managing animal diseases such as salmonella, bluetongue or foot and mouth disease which just years ago posed serious threats. “Europeans are accustomed to very high standards in food safety and sometimes the contribution animal health makes to our wellbeing is overlooked. For example bluetongue outbreaks went from 45,000 cases in 2008 to 39 in 2011 thanks to prevention and control measures. While we are proud of major breakthroughs of this type, we are also acutely aware of future critical challenges. We encourage policymakers to support us in building an appropriate climate to continue developing advanced solutions that protect both animal and human health.”

At the event, specialists from different disciplines examined the complex consequences that animal health has on the food chain and beyond, including trade and the economy. In a presentation given by the European Commission DG Trade it was noted that despite being one of the world’s regions with the highest standards in animal health, EU companies face many challenges when exporting animal derived products. The use of food safety and animal health as a trade barrier for imports has increased considerably and sometimes imports are blocked due to unreasonable sanitary and phytosanitary restrictions. As the EU is the largest exporter of agri-food in the world, valued at over €105 billion in 2011, we welcome the Commission’s support in trying to improve the export of animal products outside the EU.

David Leaver, Professor Emeritus of the Royal Agricultural College, highlighted that “animal disease outbreaks in the growing livestock sector present significant potential cost to Europe from losses in farm productivity to market disruptions and international trade.” Professor Leaver mentioned two examples – the foot and mouth disease outbreak which cost the UK an estimated total of £30 billion[1] and the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) outbreak across Europe that totalled €92 billion.

Declan O’Brien, Managing Director of IFAH-Europe wrapped up the debate by calling for science-based decisions and rational arguments. He explained that “slaughter or trade bans that result after outbreaks must be carefully examined and based on scientific evidence to avoid weakening the agricultural economies of exporting nations. More efficient veterinary legislation can help stimulate innovation and allow for more products to be brought to market. This will not only increase our preparedness for future disease outbreaks from both a health and a trade perspective, but will contribute to the sustainable supply of safe food.”

 

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