European Commissioner for Health
I am very glad to have this opportunity to address this important conference.
The Commission is fully aware of the impact of the recent epidemic waves of bluetongue.
This disease causes tremendous suffering and even deaths among the animals affected, so there are strong animal health and welfare reasons for us to act.
While the negative impact of this disease primarily affects the farming community – it also has significant implications for society as a whole (e.g. reduction in milk supply affects prices; economic impact on rural economy of disruption of well established patterns of trade caused by movement restrictions).
Bluetongue is a disease that is characterised by the vector- borne nature of its transmission.
The threat posed by the bluetongue virus will continue – not least as a consequence of climate change. Indeed, the latest developments indicate that Bluetongue serotype 8 has spread to Spain.
In addition, new diseases may emerge, and hitherto typically tropical diseases may become established in the EU as a result of changing weather patterns.
The EU response to the ongoing bluetongue situation has involved all of us present today - the Commission, Member State authorities, stakeholders and the scientific community.
Today's conference provides an important opportunity to learn from each other's experiences and discuss how we can co-operate more closely in tackling this disease in the future.
One major outcome we have already achieved is the Regulation adopted last October, that provides for more sustainable, proportionate and science based rules to combat threats to animal health.
As we begin to apply the provisions of the new Regulation, there is clearly a need for effective cooperation between Member States to ensure that trade is underpinned by trust.
All actors should make responsible use of the new legislative framework – which is built on science but depends on proper and rigorous implementation.
Without this, the essential level of trust simply cannot be built. It is therefore imperative that all actors assume and exercise their responsibilities fully.
In addition, more has to be done at ground level. Effective veterinary measures are essential in order to cope with animal diseases.
The principal, and possibly the only, effective veterinary measure in response to bluetongue is vaccination accompanied by ancillary measures such as movement restrictions and surveillance.
Much of today's conference is therefore devoted to discussing the role of vaccination in combating this disease, including the experiences of EU Member States that have used it in recent years, as well as the USA and South Africa.
As you know, the Commission has proposed a new animal health strategy with the overarching motto –"prevention is better than cure". Vaccination is fully coherent with this new approach.
Vaccination against bluetongue calls for a strong and sustained effort requiring the dedication of adequate financial resources. I trust that this essential demand will be met.
For its part, the Community stands ready to contribute. I am pleased to announce that my services have agreed with those of Commissioner Fischer-Boel that Community agricultural funds will be made available to reimburse Member States' expenditure in relation to an emergency vaccination campaign in 2008.
In principle, 100% of the costs of the purchase of the vaccine and 50% of the costs of the application of the vaccine will be covered by the Community budget, subject to certain ceilings for these operational costs.
Non-emergency vaccination campaigns in subsequent years would fall under the framework of the Community co-financed eradication programmes.
With estimates of the number of vaccine doses required ranging from 150 to 200 million, this clearly represents an important financial commitment and is a signal of the Commission's attachment to the principle of prevention.
Armed with this knowledge, the Commission now urges the Member States concerned to complete as soon as possible the necessary tendering procedures and place actual orders for the vaccines which are now becoming available, so that they are ready to go when the time comes.
The responsibility for many of the tasks involved falls to the Competent Authorities of the Member States.
We count on all of you. This is a shared endeavour. A full commitment from all competent authorities and stakeholders is vital for the emergency vaccination initiative to succeed.
Only a harmonised approach to vaccination across the entire European Union will give rise to the outcome that all of us want to see.
I expect that key issues such as the coverage of this vaccination campaign, the calendar of implementation and the vaccines to be used will be addressed by this conference in a productive way.
I hope and expect that by the end of today we will have the outline of a European strategy for vaccination against bluetongue, based on the support and contribution of the experts.
I trust that the implementation of this strategy – supported by adequate resources from the Community and the Member States – will make a major contribution towards controlling bluetongue, thus improving the health and welfare of the susceptible animals and limiting potential losses for the farming community in the future.