European Union: The EU’s Animal Health Policy Strategy

Last Updated: 16 January 2007
Article by Jane Gamble and Jackie Smith

On 7 November 2006, the Food Chain Evaluation Consortium ("FCEC") presented the conclusions and recommendations of its evaluation of the Community’s Animal Health Policy ("CAHP") at a conference in Brussels. The European Commission intends to publish a Communication setting out a new CAHP Strategy for 2007 to 2013, based on the FCEC’s report and the conference feedback, in mid-2007.

BACKGROUND

Animal health is an increasingly important issue in the EU. As well as the financial costs of animal disease outbreaks, there is growing concern about ethical issues related to the mass slaughter of animals when controlling an outbreak and the potential impact of certain animal diseases, such as avian influenza, on human health.

The current CAHP has evolved from various developments, including the setting up of the single market and serious animal health crises. It consists of a series of interrelated policies founded on more than 600 EU Regulations, Directives and Decisions. However, despite the numerous measures in place, the livestock sector in the EU has experienced many crises during the past decade, such as BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) and foot-and-mouth disease.

Several important changes have also occurred that impact on animal health in the EU. For example, the volume of trade and imports in animal products has increased greatly over recent years, and combined with larger animal units and high animal density, these have facilitated the spread of diseases and magnified their impact. There have been significant scientific and technological advances in animal health management. In addition, the main elements of the existing CAHP were drawn up when there were only 12 Member States – with Bulgaria and Romania joining the EU in 2007, there will soon be 27 Member States, which brings further cultural and logistical challenges in relation to animal health policy.

EVALUATION OF THE EXISTING CAHP

In December 2004, the European Commission announced that it would develop a new Animal Health Strategy to improve the prevention and control of animal disease and simplify the complex animal health legislation.

As part of this process, the Commission appointed the Food Chain Evaluation Consortium ("FCEC") as consultants to evaluate the performance of the existing CAHP between 1995 and 2004 and to identify future policy options. The FCEC undertook extensive stakeholder consultation, involving over 100 interviews with relevant authorities and interested parties at EU and Member State level and a survey of 34 non-EU countries. The consultation and evaluation covered intra-Community trade, control and eradication programmes, imports, disease monitoring and surveillance, traceability, research and scientific advice, protection of public health and financial instruments and funding.

The FCEC published its final report in July 2006 for public consultation. The report concluded that the existing CAHP has played a key role in facilitating trade in animals and animal products, ensuring food safety, preventing the transmission of animal diseases to humans and providing financial support for the control and eradication of many serious diseases. The CAHP has become increasingly successful and policy improvements have mainly been stimulated by the need to respond to major crises.

However, the report also expressed concern over a number of aspects of the current CAHP, including:

  • the lack of a clear and transparent overall EU animal health strategy
  • the lack of uniformity in certification procedures and veterinary checks across the EU and
  • the variation in results of control and eradication programmes between different diseases and in different regions within the Community.

RECOMMENDATIONS AND OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE CAHP

The report recommends a move towards a policy which is more focused on effective risk management and disease prevention. This involves better prioritisation of actions relating to disease eradication and surveillance, research and development, controls on illegal entry of potentially risk carrying materials and bio-security. Better consistency between actions to improve animal health and welfare in the EU and international competitiveness could be achieved by pursuing simplified rules and carrying out impact assessments before introducing new legislation. The report also recommends a major overhaul of the way costs of disease control are shared between farmers, EU Member States and the EU.

The FCEC report identified a number of possible options for the future CAHP, including:

  • further alignment of EU legislation to OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) guidelines and standards
  • rationalising Committee procedures (that is, investigating whether all legislation relating to animal health needs to go through the Standing Committee procedure)
  • improving stakeholder engagement and involvement in decision-making
  • targeting illegal imports and fraud through enhanced border security
  • a gradual move towards integrated electronic identification and certification procedures for intra-Community trade
  • providing specific support to third countries to assist them in upgrading their animal health status to meet EU and international (OIE) requirements and
  • promoting a stronger culture of biosecurity.

A key component in the promotion of a culture of bio security would be the introduction of a harmonised framework for cost and responsibility sharing. The introduction of a disease classification system would allow greater focus on those diseases where co-ordinated action at EU level is needed most, due to the potential impact on human health and the economy.

STAKEHOLDER CONFERENCE

As part of the consultation process, a stakeholder conference on the CAHP Strategy 2007-2013 was held in Brussels on 7 November 2006. The FCEC’s presentation of the main conclusions of its final report and options for the future was followed by panel discussions on challenges for the future CAHP, options to improve "biosecurity" and harmonised responsibility and cost sharing schemes for epidemic livestock diseases.

A number of views were expressed in the panel discussions. There were differences of opinion as to whether simplification of legislation should be based on agreed standards or detailed rules. There was wide support for improving on-farm biosecurity measures and the development of a "responsibility and costs sharing scheme", though a number of different positions were voiced at the conference in relation to how cost and responsibility sharing would work in practice. Many participants felt that financial support should focus on preventive measures.

FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS

Based on the FCEC’s evaluation and the consultation, including the output of the November conference, the Commission is planning to publish a Communication on the new CAHP Strategy for 2007 to 2013.

The Communication is expected to reflect the recommendations of the FCEC and set out a framework for the new CAHP, including:

  • clarification of the roles and responsibilities of farmers, veterinarians, industry, stakeholder organisations and governments and European institutions
  • an action plan of legislative and non-legislative measures for 2007 to 2013
  • alignment of the CAHP with other EU policies and international agreements (for example, the Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary Agreement of the WTO)
  • measures to minimise the regulatory burden
  • an appropriate budget and an adequate financial instrument and
  • indicators to assess achievement of strategic targets.

The Commission is expected to present a preliminary draft of the Communication to the European Parliament in mid-2007 and to adopt the Communication in the second half of 2007. The Communication will then be debated in the Council and Parliament and their position is expected by the end of 2007.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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