Inconsistent global biosecurity standards are posing a threat to the world’s health and food security, the director general of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) has warned.
Speaking at the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) Meeting of States Parties, Dr Bernard Vallat pointed out that 60% of infectious human diseases originate from animals, meaning that the spread of animal pathogens has potentially catastrophic implications for human health, as well as food security.
He said that increasing global movement of people, animals and animal products was making it easier for diseases such as SARS, avian flu, mad cow disease and Ebola to spread accidentally, adding that there was also a serious risk of animal pathogens being used as bioweapons.
“I am sure that you don’t need reminding about the impact of animal pathogens on human health, agriculture, economies, and the availability of safe food. Because of these impacts, animal pathogens have been used as bioweapons throughout history, from a time when archers dipped their arrows in rotting animal carcases, through to 20th century biowarfare programs and, more recently, attempts by terrorists to use animal pathogens against civilians.
“Most bioweapons have utilised animal pathogens. Agents such as anthrax plague, glanders, and foot-and-mouth disease virus don’t just exist in laboratories; many of them are also freely available in nature.”
With biosecurity standards currently varying widely from country to country, Vallat said it was vital for global governments to strengthen their veterinary services and ensure that OIE standards on surveillance, early detection and rapid response mechanisms were met. He added that compliance with OIE laboratory standards would help prevent accidents and stop dangerous pathogens from falling into the wrong hands.
“The best way to protect the entire world from rising bio-threats linked with animal pathogens is to ensure that all national Veterinary Services comply with OIE international standards on quality. This must be a basis for bio risk management policies,” he said.
“It is a shared responsibility of governments to use all means available and apply existing recommendations that we give to prevent and control animal diseases. This will reduce the significant risks these pathogens present. All available channels for convincing all decision-makers should be used with that objective.”