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European Commissioner for Health
President, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very pleased to be here today.
This annual event is an excellent opportunity to reflect on threats posed by epidemic livestock diseases.
This is no longer an issue of interest only for veterinarians and other experts but also for the wider public given the unprecedented spread of certain diseases in recent years.
I would therefore like, on this occasion, to talk to you about our ambition regarding the broad issue of animal health in Europe.
As many of you will know, the Commission is preparing a Communication on a future Animal Health Strategy (2007-2013).
The Commission plans to adopt this new Communication later this year.
Our current animal health policy has served its purpose well. However, a combination of circumstances has prompted a thorough review of our policy:
It is likely have an influence on the incidence of certain vector borne disease – such as Bluetongue - in future years.
Drought and flooding which will result unavoidably to land changes may also serve to alter patterns of disease activity.
It is also directly related to animal health as better breeding practices are associated with disease reduction.
Over the years, a fully harmonised legal framework for live animals, their germinal products and animal products, has progressively replaced national animal health regulations.
These rules have contributed greatly towards eliminating diseases or keeping them under control.
The recent 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.
We have ensured that the system in place provides swift, decisive and proportionate action. This is of course based on the good co-operation between the Member States and the Commission.
As I mentioned earlier, animal health matters are becoming a major concern to European citizens.
These concerns stem not only from food safety issues but also the economic costs that animal disease outbreaks can trigger.
Citizens also raise animal welfare issues. For example, the mass slaughter of animals to control certain disease outbreaks, animal transport, and intensive farming systems.
There is a critical relationship between animal health and animal welfare which needs to be clearly reflected in the way these issues are approached.
This is why the Animal Health Strategy will also take into account the main objectives of the Community action plan on animal welfare which was adopted exactly one year ago.
Plus, there is growing concern about the potential impact of animal diseases on human health.
And globalisation of trade and increased movements of people and goods will continue to create risks for the welfare of human and animal populations.
I would now like to turn to three important examples of animal diseases that have affected the EU (including Germany in particular), in recent years.
First, Classical Swine Fever.
In the last decade, the Community strategy (implemented after the very serious outbreak in 1997) has proved to be largely successful.
However, problems have not been entirely solved in some Member States, including Germany, despite considerable efforts.
Indeed, CSF is still present in wild boar populations and sometimes serious outbreaks occur in domestic pigs (such as in the spring of 2006, in North-Rhine Westfalia).
Vaccination of wild boar has proven to be effective when properly applied – but this needs to be accompanied by complementary measures in order to achieve eradication.
I hope that current efforts will lead finally to its eradication from wildlife, both in Germany and in the other affected Member States.
However, preventive measures, including farm-gate biosecurity, early detection, rapid implementation of control measures and good coordination between Länder will continue to be of paramount importance.
Second, Bluetongue, which occurred in August 2006 in western Germany and in four neighbouring Member States.
These outbreaks were caused by a serotype of the bluetongue virus, which had never before been reported in Europe.
In zones with a temperate climate the disease has a clear seasonal pattern with “peaks” in late summer and early autumn.
Experience shows that under particular climatic conditions, epidemic waves of the disease can occur, that are extremely difficult to stop.
This is what has happened last summer and autumn here in Germany – when climatic conditions mirrored those more commonly associated with Southern Europe.
Disease control measures were taken swiftly by the Commission together with the Member States, in the framework of Community legislation.
These efforts have limited the negative impact of the disease.
I am aware that operators are concerned about the impact of measures on trade. However, EU measures are based on OIE international standards and are the same as measures put in place in the affected areas in southern Europe.
And we cannot forget that this disease may have a very serious impact on sheep.
We need to prepare for the possibility that the disease may reoccur next summer. With unpredictable weather patterns, and the prospect of progressive climate change, we need to take this risk seriously.
The Commission has therefore asked EFSA to analyse the recent outbreak; to give an opinion on the use of vaccination as a possible control tool; and to gather more information on the vectors and the options for control.
At the same time, we are working closely with Member States to improve disease preparedness for next season.]
Last, but not least, Avian influenza.
The very serious spread of disease which occurred last year in Europe did not take the EU or Germany by surprise.
Indeed, Germany deserves considerable credit for its success in eradicating the disease.
Approximately 45% of all wild bird cases of avian influenza detected in the EU occurred here in Germany. However, only one outbreak occurred in poultry, which was quickly eradicated.
The avian influenza virus [of the Asian lineage (H5N1)] has unfortunately reappeared a few days ago for the first time this winter in the EU, in a geese farm in Hungary, a breeding flock of 3300 birds. The origin of the virus is for the moment not clear.
The Hungarian authorities have reacted immediately as soon as the disease was suspected and are taking very rigorous measures, as provided for in Community legislation, that represents a very solid legal base for the adoption of the most appropriate disease control measures.
I hope that this outbreak can be successfully and swiftly controlled and eradicated. However, it has shown that it is imperative that the authorities together with the farmers in all Member States do not lower the guard against this disease.
Indeed, the recrudescence of avian flu that is ongoing in Asia and Africa reminds us that this disease is likely to continue to be a serious worldwide problem for the foreseeable future.
Future animal heath strategy
Before I finish, I would like to highlight some of the major challenges ahead in the animal health arena.
Animal diseases do not recognise borders between countries or between regions within a country.
The clear added value in having a harmonised animal health policy within the EU is widely recognised and accepted.
The future strategy for animal health will aim:
Through the new strategy, we aim to provide the best possible framework for the control of animal related threats in Europe, based on the principle that “prevention is better than cure”.
Incentives must be set to encourage operators to pursue and benefit from high standards of prevention.
Delivery of these benefits do not only depend on the operational principles that need to be defined at EU level.
They depend greatly on their effective implementation by Member States and the active participation of operators throughout the food chain.
And of course, the greatest challenge of the future policy is to put in place such a system in a Union of 27 Member States.
We will work closely with all stakeholders to identify clear objectives to be rigorously pursued through actions that minimise regulatory burdens.
The Commission Communication will take into account international standards, and will seek to improve the coherence between the Community Animal Health and Welfare Policy but also other EU policies.
May I conclude by emphasising that the Commission cannot hope to fulfil its ambitions through acting alone.
Effective partnerships at all levels are needed in order to achieve a truly integrated and successful approach.
I look forward to working with all of you. I count on your invaluable input as you are all important actors for the implementation of our policy on animal health..