Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy
Economics of animal health: a price worth paying?
EU Veterinary Week Conference/Brussels
3 October 2012
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am sure that you will agree with me about both the importance and timeliness of the theme chosen for today's conference.
Because of the current economic climate, all areas of expenditure rightly come under intense scrutiny.
Animal health is certainly no exception.
So – perhaps even more than in the past – the animal health domain must prove its worth – its value to society – and justify why it warrants public investment.
In addition, it must also prove that such investment makes good business sense – that it can actually yield more than it costs.
The objective is to deliver beneficial results which contribute to growth and competitiveness for both agriculture and the wider economy, and for the overall welfare of society.
President Barroso, in his "State of the Union" address to the European Parliament last month, highlighted the financial and economic crisis and called for a modern, growth oriented agriculture capable of combining food security with sustainable development.
Animal health lies at the heart of this key challenge.
Economics is possibly the key social science for helping us understand the impact of biology on society. The EU 2020 initiative strives for a resource-efficient Europe and an overarching long-term framework for policies linking the economy and natural resources – such as livestock.
I have no doubt that our EU policies on animal health can and will make an important contribution towards meeting the objectives of the EU 2020 Strategy.
From a broader perspective, improved animal health throughout the world can contribute significantly to the food security challenges that we will face in decades to come.
The economic and veterinary fields must continue to work together to establish the most efficient and effective use of resources to invest in animal health. This is our clear duty when spending money that EU citizens have contributed towards the common good.
Our duty is also to explore all possible avenues where savings could be made by reducing administrative burdens and associated costs. For example, we plan to make a proposal to revise the official certification currently required by EU legislation for slaughter animals.
Here a simplification appears plausible which could imply savings of up to 80 million Euro annually without compromising the high levels of safety European citizens demand and enjoy..
But as well as looking for savings and reductions, we must continue to invest in animal health where it is appropriate to do so. I will outline briefly some examples.
First – animal productivity. Sick animals are unproductive animals. They produce less milk, they cost more to feed and to bring to slaughter weight, and they cost more to treat, including the costs of vaccines and veterinary drugs.
In Europe, we have done a very good job in ensuring a high level of animal health. This in turn is instrumental in the very high productivity levels of our livestock. Imagine the costs if, for example, we needed to vaccinate all our animals against diseases which fortunately have been eradicated in Europe.
Second – a key driver of the high level of animal health in the EU was the need to facilitate trade. In the area of animal and food production this has been a remarkable success.
This success has been built on our commitment in the EU to the principle that animals and food can only be traded under safe conditions. This principle underpins our approach both in relation to trade within the EU and with the rest of the world.
The key point is – we have succeeded in greatly expanding trade in animals and animal products because of (and not despite of) high animal health standards.
Finally, but of paramount importance – human health.
Safe, nutritious food is a basic and universal human requirement. Animals and animal products are a key component of our diet but have the potential to transmit important diseases. Our vets and farmers have a key role in ensuring that these diseases are kept to a minimum.
Again, in Europe we have done a very good job. We can only imagine the costs, in terms of both human health and lost productivity, if Europe were faced with the crippling costs of the many human diseases of animal origin which today have been well-controlled or even eradicated.
These brief examples serve to highlight the value of the investments we have made in the EU for a high level of animal health.
It is essential that a strong case for this investment continues to be made. We must be able to reassure politicians and citizens that a high level of animal health contributes not only to human health and wellbeing but also to growth and prosperity in the EU.
In this context, I firmly believe that the expenditure on (or investments in) animal health to prevent major animal diseases or to react to outbreaks should continue to be shared between the private and public sectors.
In addition, each and every farmer or animal keeper has a keen interest in investing in animal health to prevent those diseases that often affect individual animals and which may be less serious but nevertheless compromise the health and welfare of their animals.
Finding the right balance in the ways and means of sharing the financial cost of animal diseases and their prevention and control is a delicate matter. Subsidiarity and responsibility sharing among different interests must, however, be fully considered.
I am, however, confident that in the European Union we have already struck a very reasonable balance between EU and national and between the public and private spheres of responsibility.
It might not be perfect – and perhaps some aspects could be improved. If new opportunities arise for improvements, we should take them.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Before I close, let me highlight another important issue. The EU policy on animal health (and this is valid also for animal welfare, plant health and food safety) goes beyond the spheres of health, economics and competitiveness. It also encompasses the values of social cohesion, solidarity and goals of sustainable development.
Some of the actions undertaken in line with those values can easily be quantified in economic terms and are reflected and paid for in an open market. Others are less measureable, some hardly at all, but it is important that they are done nonetheless.
In the coming months the Commission plans to adopt a package of proposals to reinforce the safety of the food chain – including a proposal for a new Animal Health Law and one for the Financial Framework covering EU expenditure for the safety and health of the whole food chain for the period 2014 to 2020.
These proposals will reflect the EU values that I have raised, as well as all the experience that we have gained over the past twenty years following the creation of the single market.
The proposals will also provide clearer targets for any investments made in terms of human and financial resources, at EU or national level, by the public or private sector, with the aim of improving animal health and food safety.
I am confident that our proposals will be well received by the European Parliament and by the Council, as well as by livestock industry and stakeholders, as well as by European citizens.
Thank you all for attending and contributing to this conference. I wish you all a safe trip home.