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European Union Animal Health Strategy (2007-2013)

An ambitious strategy based on an in-depth evaluation guides Community action in the field of animal health and is generating further interinstitutional debate on this matter. This strategy is built on four pillars that encompass the Community standards aimed at all the sector's stakeholders.

ACT

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on a new Animal Health Strategy for the European Union (2007-2013) where 'Prevention is better than cure' [COM(2007) 539 final - not published in the Official Journal].

SUMMARY

The European animal health strategy is based on an evaluation started by the Commission in 2004 and covers the health of all animals in the European Union (EU).

It has the following objectives:

  • to protect public health and food safety;
  • to promote farming and the rural economy;
  • to ensure the necessary animal movements;
  • to contribute to the sustainable development of the EU.

The first pillar: prioritisation of EU intervention

The foundations of Community action must be based on an evaluation of the main threats to animal health. This analysis must determine the relevance of these threats to the objectives of the EU strategy, the 'acceptable level of risk' for the Community and the relative priority of the action to be taken to reduce the risk. In this respect, Community action will be aimed at reducing this risk to a negligible level, since zero risk cannot be achieved. Furthermore, the Community applies the precautionary principle, which provides for the use of temporary measures if there is a potentially serious threat to health but no scientific certainty of this.

The representatives of all interested parties in the risk management process are called on to provide their input to Community decision-making. Risks will be analysed and managed by defining quantifiable objectives, studying resources and assessing the progress achieved.

The second pillar: a modern animal health framework

The EU and international organisations, such as the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Bank, recognise the importance of protecting animal health.

The major Community instrument for protecting animal health consists of adapted and constantly updated legislation that applies the principles of the Community policy and its international obligations. With a view to improving this legislation and making it more effective, the EU hopes to put in place a clear, single regulatory framework consistent with OIE guidelines and the Codex Alimentarius.

Appropriate sharing of costs, benefits and responsibilities could contribute to the strategy's success and help limit the financial risks for Member States and the Community by providing incentives for preventing animal-related threats.

The Member States are responsible for securing the EU's external borders against disease incursions and leading the response to outbreaks of exotic diseases. Moreover, compensation for private property destroyed for the public good must be provided by governments. Responsibility for the health of animals lies primarily with animal owners and collectively with the industry. In order for the strategy to be successful, all parties, including the insurance sector, need to be fully committed participants.

The Codex Alimentarius and the OIE are essential references for legislation on animal diseases. The EU follows their guidelines and encourages other international members to base their legislation on the same values. In addition, the EU is considering the possibility of Community membership of the OIE.

Improved animal health will increase the competitiveness of European companies. Moreover, by harmonising these rules, it will be possible to ensure fair competition in the Community market and extend this common basis to imports. With regard to exports, better prioritisation of actions against health barriers should help ensure better access to export markets.

The third pillar: animal-related threat prevention, surveillance and crisis preparedness

The promotion and financing of on-farm biosecurity * measures should constitute important reference criteria for zoning and compartmentalisation procedures.

Movements of food of animal origin and animal feed are identified and traced using an exchange control system and a paper-based system identifying each animal. With the aim of integrating the system at EU level, an electronic system will gradually be introduced.

Measures have been envisaged to improve border biosecurity without disrupting the cross-border movement of people and agricultural goods, which include not only improving current legislation and cooperation between the parties involved in customs checks, but also providing technical assistance to developing countries, so that they can meet Community standards.

The EU proposes supporting veterinary surveillance through improved cooperation between the parties concerned and appropriate financial resources and by encouraging training in the sector. The scientific information gathered from this surveillance activity can aid decision-making for the EU institutions, governments and other stakeholders in the animal health protection sector.

The EU must be better prepared to deal with emergencies and it can do so by adopting an integrated approach and through the more widespread use of vaccines.

The fourth pillar: science, innovation and research

The EU is encouraging scientific and technological development in the field of public and animal health. To this end, Community and national reference laboratories and European agencies (particularly the European Food Safety Authority and the European Medicines Agency) have been called upon to cooperate and play a key role in scientific work.

Innovation and research in the food safety sector depend on a whole series of instruments, such as the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and the Community Action Plan on the Protection and Welfare of Animals.

Key terms used in the act
Biosecurity: the measures taken to combat diseases or to prevent them from spreading. These measures relate to the treatment of new and sick animals, the transport of people, animals and equipment, the feeding of animals and the cleaning of their holdings.
Last updated: 19.12.2007
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