Bernard Vallat was elected director general of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in May 2000. He talks to GlobalMeatNews about antibiotics, livestock transportation and animal diseases.
ANTIBIOTICS: A TREASURE FOR ANIMAL HEALTH
GlobatMeatNews: You recently said that a complete ban of antibiotics on livestock would not be not a good idea, could you elaborate a bit more on that?
Bernard Vallat: Antibiotics are a treasure for animal health and we need to preserve their use. The use of antibiotics is essential to guarantee food security and meet global demand for animal production (including meat, milk and eggs). To maintain the benefits of this use, we need to develop policies of cautious use of antibiotics, which is why our organisation has drawn up norms that we put forward to all our members. We already have existing norms that have been adopted and published, and we update them regularly according to scientific developments.
GMN: What do you think of the EU’s decision to ban prophylactic use of antimicrobials altogether?
B. V.: The OIE puts norms forward for adoption by all its 178 member countries after consulting its experts coming from all regions of the world. There has been no consensus at the OIE about a ban on antibiotics used systematically in animal feed as growth promoters – especially for pigs, chickens and dairy cows. The EU decided to prohibit this use as a precaution. They analysed the risk and went ahead with the ban. They are practically the only ones within our member countries that have gone this far. It’s a matter of risk analysis, they clearly chose to take precautions. There is still scientific controversy over the benefits of this ban and over the negative effects of prophylactic use of antibiotics, but there is clearly a global trend towards the ban. More and more countries, though not a majority, are adopting this position, which is significant, and we can expect the OIE to go in that direction in a few years, at least that’s my personal prediction.
GMN: How much of a responsibility do you think antibiotics in livestock has in antimicrobial resistance (AMR)?
B. V.: It is very clear that the issues of antimicrobial resistance that exist today for humans are the result of antibiotics use in human medicine and in hospitals. Everybody acknowledges the fact that the weight that antibiotics misuse in animal medicine has in human AMR is very low. Our main concern is animal health, and we want to avoid AMR in animals first and foremost, because it is essential that we are able to keep using antibiotics to maintain animal health. Of course, by doing this, we indirectly avoid the rare cases of negative consequences in human medicine.
ANIMAL WELFARE DURING TRANSPORT: WE NEED TO ENFORCE THE EXISTING LAWS
GMN: Animal welfare organisations have asked the EU to suspend livestock exports to Turkey, saying some member states, especially Hungary and Bulgaria, do not comply with OIE guidelines. What is your view on the issue?
B. V.: Just because people speed doesn’t mean we forbid driving on the motorway. If people cheat we need to improve control systems to enforce regulations, because there are systems that impose procedures to limit the problem of animal suffering during transport. It’s important that they are implemented, as they have been voted in. But just because some people do not respect the rules doesn’t mean livestock transport should be banned.
GMN: Animal welfare during transport seems to have been an issue in Europe lately, with organisations asking to limit transport times to eight hours or even to abolish livestock exports altogether. Do you think it is time for the European Commission to review the 2005 regulation on animal transportation?
B. V.: Our organisation is not European, it is global, and we have already adopted global regulations on animal transport, which have been voted and are less restrictive than EU regulations. Our goal is to enforce them worldwide.
SCHMALLENBERG: A WORRYING NEW VIRUS
GMN: European farmers, especially in Germany and the Netherlands, have been worried about the appearance of a new virus called Schmallenberg, which can cause abortion or fetal abnormalities in ruminants. What is the OIE doing about this?
B. V.: We are in contact with affected countries and we regularly publish information coming from these countries. We are keeping a close eye on it. It’s a virus that is very close to bluetongue disease, which caused serious damage in Europe a few years ago, and just like that virus, it targets small ruminants rather than bovines. It is rather worrying, but this virus does not seem to spread as fast as bluetongue did. We need to wait and see, as for the moment we do not have enough perspective or enough cases to draw conclusions, but we need to follow that closely.
GMN: You will be holding a global conference on foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in June in Bangkok. What issues will it tackle?
B. V.: We have 178 member countries, including 100 that we have not yet been able to declare free from FMD, according to our official procedure. We have rated 62 countries AAA, but the other ones are B-, which means that only one-third of countries in the world can guarantee that they are free from FMD. The most affected areas are Africa and Asia, but many countries are at risk. The conference will assess the situation and more importantly, it will put forward a global control strategy. The European Financial Agency and the World Bank will be there, and our goal will be to convince them to fund the cost of global control by supporting developing countries that wish to engage in vaccination campaigns.