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OIE head warns EU over animal disease risk

By Carmen Paun, in Brussels , 24-Jan-2013
Last updated on 24-Jan-2013 at 10:45 GMT

OIE head calls for EU to take proactive stance on animal disease

The European Union (EU) should give more help to poorer trading partners in eradicating animal diseases, so it can keep itself safe from diseases and bioterrorism, the director general of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) has warned.

Speaking to Globameatnews.com at the European Parliament in Brussels, Dr Bernard Vallat said “we believe Europe does not do enough in this sense; it needs to do more,"  noting that the EU is always under threat of livestock diseases re-entering its territory if it does not ensure they are eradicated in poor countries exporting meat and animals to its member states.

With about one billion people having crossed borders last year, the OIE director general said diseases (human and animal) were easy to spread internationally. Even if it has eradicated zoonoses infecting its livestock within its territory, the EU is not safe, according to Vallat. He recalled how the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in the UK was caused by a virus from Asia, which saw six million animals killed. “We need to create inspection points in airports, ports and roads, but we cannot control all of this movement [of people and goods],” he said.

The director general proposed ensuring developing countries have networks of animal breeders and veterinarians who, based on evidence, can inform local public authorities of any disease before it spreads. He said the EU could help establish these warning systems through providing training for animal breeders, veterinarians and local trainers.

Vallat also warned the intentional introduction of animal pathogens into Europe through bioterrorism was a real risk, and that solid disease prevention and detection systems were the first line of defence. These could stall the spread of pathogens, such as the virus foot-and-mouth disease, which could be a very useful tool for bioterrorists, Vallat argued. While the disease might not directly affect people, it could ruin the rural economy of a whole region, he added.

The OIE director general believed the EU should focus its aid on stopping animal diseases in its neighbouring regions of North Africa, the Balkans and eastern Europe, and also in south-east Asia, which was a “source of very dangerous germs”, he said.

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