European Commissioner for Health and Consumer
Animal Health Conference
Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen
May I first express my appreciation to the Finnish Presidency for organizing today’s event. This conference is not just the ideal opportunity to consider the outcome of the recent comprehensive evaluation of the Community Animal Health Policy. It also provides an excellent forum for the exchange of views between all stakeholders concerned by this policy. Such an exchange will help us set the correct parameters in shaping our strategy for the future.
As a starting point, I would like to highlight that the Commission’s intention in launching this evaluation was to have a thorough review of where we are in the Community in relation to animal health and what direction we may wish to take in the future.
The existing strategy has served its purpose well. However, a combination of circumstances made it imperative to re-evaluate our policy:
40 years of progress
Indeed, Community Animal Health Policy has come a long way.
Forty years ago, the European livestock industry was regularly hit by diseases for which Member States were forced to apply restrictions which disrupted animal production and trade, and had a severe effect on farmers’ incomes.
The harmonised Community animal health measures and systems of disease surveillance, diagnosis and control, have by now replaced national health regulations have contributed greatly towards eliminating or keeping animal diseases under control.
In recent years, the EU moved even further by adopting a “farm to fork” approach to food safety in general. This was the natural evolution of our animal health strategy and a development which allowed the Community to respond effectively to food crises, such as BSE.
By now, we have achieved a fully harmonised legal framework for live animals and animal products.
The recent and current situation of the arrival of avian influenza H5N1 in the EU is a good example of how today’s European Union can achieve results thanks to this harmonised policy, with swift, decisive and proportionate action, and good co-operation between the Member States and with the Commission.
The EU has also always been forward looking by looking at animal health also beyond our borders – in the wider international context.
This is a key consideration in the shaping of our animal health policy for the next years. In this respect, we should also bear in mind that the WTO/SPS agreement has (since 1995) also played – and will continue to play - a role in the Community approach to animal health.
Another key element to consider when discussing animal health policy is its implications, which extend far beyond the farming and food industries.
Animal health causes concerns to all our citizens.
These concerns stem not only from food safety issues but also the economic costs that animal disease outbreaks can trigger as well as welfare issues – for example, the mass slaughter of animals to control certain disease outbreaks or the transport of animals.
Plus, there is growing concern about the potential impact of animal diseases on human health – BSE being the first example everyone can think of and avian influenza being the most topical example with regard to its connection to a possible human influenza pandemic.
And I now turn to the evaluation of our animal health strategy. The underlying reason in launching an independent evaluation of the effectiveness of the Community Animal Health Policy almost two years ago, was to examine where and how our systems and approach might be improved.
This extensive review was intended to provide the building blocks for defining the Commission's future policy direction and guidelines.
I was therefore very pleased to hear that in response to the consultation that the Commission launched, we received a wealth of contributions. Over 100 responses were received to the consultation, and more than 100 interviews were conducted.
I understand that the conclusions of the evaluation will be debated today and I encourage you to share openly your views especially on the most challenging of these subjects.
It is of course important that in this debate, we keep sight of the global perspective – the aim for the EU to become more competitive in the international context while working in partnership with countries outside of the EU.
Border controls have already been reinforced, and have become more standardised and harmonised across the EU. However, we should ask ourselves if there is still room for improvement, particularly to address problems such as new trade patterns but also illegal trade.
Trade in live animals is another issue of particular sensitivity: we need to consider seriously whether minimising live animal movements, as well as increasing preventive measures against diseases, are key steps towards reducing animal disease risks.
Conclusions - Future strategy
The Commission plans to present a Communication on the Community Animal Health Policy and its strategy for the period 2007-2013 by mid-2007, based on the evaluation results and on your contribution today.
We aim to provide the best possible framework for Europe, based on the principle that “prevention is better than cure”.
Incentives must be created to encourage operators to pursue and in effect benefit from prevention. Whether such benefit can be achieved in practice depends not only on the operational principles that need to be defined at EU level but also on the farmers’ active participation in such schemes and on their effective implementation by Member States.
And of course, the greatest challenge of the future policy is to put in place such a system in an EU of 27 Member States. This is a complex issue that needs to be duly addressed at all levels – political, economic and legal.
For this reason, we aim to present clear objectives aimed at minimising regulatory burdens.
The Commission Communication will also take into consideration international commitments (WTO) and improve the coherence between the Community Animal Heath Policy and other EU policies, especially:
the Common Agriculture Policy, Public Health, Animal Welfare, Sustainable Development, External Aid and Research and of course, External Competitiveness.
Let me close by stating the obvious. The Commission cannot succeed in this by acting alone. For success to be achieved, we need not only to continue the partnership approach, but to deepen and strengthen it.
The future success of the strategy will depend on effective partnerships at all levels. All those with an interest in animal health will have their role to play and responsibilities to fulfil.
We need the European Parliament, the Member States, Regions, stakeholders and citizens to share our ambition to proceed in a simultaneous and synchronised effort. wish you all a pleasant and fruitful day and I look forward to hearing the conclusions of your discussions.