The Council of the European Union (EU) formally adopted the Animal Health Law – in statute known as the Regulation on Transmissible Animal Diseases – after a second reading of the bill on 8 March 2016. The law harmonises over 40 different animal welfare regulations, which, among other aspects, toughens up the fight against antimicrobial resistance.
Disease cause ignored
UK-based CiWF – which claims to be the world’s leading farm animal welfare organisation – said the law would be “less effective” than it ought it be, as it believes the law does not define the duty on farmers to adhere to good animal husbandry principles.
“Compassion in World Farming welcomes the new EU Animal Health law, which is designed to strengthen the prevention of transmissible animal diseases,” said CiWF’s chief policy advisor Peter Stevenson.
“However, the new law ignores one of the main causes of animal disease: the EU’s highly intensive livestock sector. The new law refers to the need for ‘good animal husbandry’ but makes no attempt to define it and so farmers are unlikely to change to healthier systems.”
EU turning a blind eye?
Stevenson said that intensive farming systems across Europe, with a high density of livestock, can be breeding grounds for the development and transmission of infectious diseases – like mad cow disease or avian influenza. Both the European Food Safety Authority and the European Medicines Agency point to the fact intensive farms create “favourable conditions” for the spread of disease, said Stevenson.
He added: “Scientific research shows that animals that are stressed – such as early weaned piglets or animals that cannot perform natural behaviours – have reduced immune competence and so are more vulnerable to disease.
“In short, factory farming – which is the norm in the EU’s pig and poultry sectors and increasingly in the dairy sector – predisposes animals to disease. Regrettably the new law turns a blind eye to this key factor in the emergence and spread of disease. As a result it will be less effective than it might have been.”
However, the bill has been welcomed by another animal welfare organisation - Eurogroup for Animals.
“We have worked hard to get this result and I am proud to say that thanks to our advocacy efforts and the support of key actors in the EU institutions, every animal holder in Europe will need to follow good animal husbandry practices and use medicine in a prudent and responsible way,” said Reineke Hameleers, director of Eurogroup for Animals.
“In addition to acknowledging the important role of veterinarians and pet owners in caring for animals, the new law will ensure that disease control measures take animal welfare into account, sparing animals any avoidable pain, distress or suffering.
“Stakeholder consultation requirements in the context of contingency planning will allow animal welfare organisations to support the best possible outcomes for animals. Moreover, the law introduces important prevention mechanisms to avoid disease outbreaks.”
With the value of EU livestock estimated by to be worth somewhere in the region of €159bn ($171bn), the new regulation was created to help Europe act swiftly and decisively in the case of a disease outbreak.