20 December 2004
EU-Conference on Animal Disease Control, 15-16 December 2005
The EU-conference ‘The material and immaterial costs of animal disease control’ took place on 15-16 December ’05 and was presided by Frans Andriessen. The Dutch Department of Agriculture had organised the conference within the Dutch EU-presidency.

In the auditorium the Dutch smallholders were represented by:
- Paula Polman, NBvH (Dutch Association of Smallhoders)
- Sible Westendorp, NHDB (Dutch Poultry Smallholders League)
- Geesje Kuit, SZH (Society for Rare Breeds)
- Peter Paul van der Lugt, Aviornis International (Fancy Birds)
The NBvH had a small stall and to attract the attention the poster ‘All animals are equal’ was shown and the pamphlets were handed out. And we did get a lot of attention during the breaks.
Mr. Veerman, Minister of Agriculture, opened the conference and in his speech he mentioned the smallholders specifically in his welcome.
The conference goal was to have an open discussion about disease control, about working together on the subject and about the exchange of information between countries to learn from one another, especially from the Netherlands. So that in the end Europe will achieve a socially accepted animal disease control policy.
He emphasised that the sorrow of smallholders, who had their thousands of animals killed, had deeply touched him. And, he went on, countries can no longer issue regulations and control measures to fight animal diseases without social support.
Outbreaks of animal diseases can never be avoided in the future, because of globalization and the intensity of trade traffic.
And we have to increase our knowledge of veterinary and public health, because of the dangerous situation in South East Asia, where they are on the verge of zoonoses like SARS and Avian Influenza.
Veerman pointed out that the commercial sector has the obligation to guarantee hygiene and to breed resistant species. He stated that the Netherlands will, in future, vaccinate to
fight a disease outbreak and then keep the vaccinated animals alive. Products of vaccinated animals are safe for consumption (according to the OIE) and should be marketed at normal prices. The industry itself should take care of the conditions for vaccinated products.
With this opening speech the Minister set the direction for the conference.
In her reaction the Director General of SANCO, Jaana Husu-Kallio, said that it is not a matter of ‘yes or no vaccination?’ but a matter of long term vision on health, ethics, international dimensions, financial consequences and efficient policy. Brussels does not prohibit vaccination. Her speech is on: http://europa.eu.int/food/animal/diseases/strategy/index_en.htm  

Various speakers from different European countries filled the rest of the first day with all the aspects of animal disease control.
Prof. R. Huirne from Wageningen University and Research Centre (the Netherlands) presented some theoretical models of the costs of disease control for farmers, the agribusiness and for the recreation industry in the case of mass killing, of vaccination and mass killing and of vaccination and then keeping the vaccinated animals alive.
Steven van Hoogstraten, director of the Carnegie Foundation, spoke about the aspects of public health. He stated that although the health situation of people and animals have become more and more related, especially in the case of AI, the cooperation between the two health services is far from ideal. This will surely increase the chance of mutation into a new influenza virus, to which we have as yet no cure. So we need more research and production of antiviral remedies.
Then Richard Wakeford of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (UK) spoke of the direct consequences of animal diseases for the local economy.
Bernard Vallat (OIE) stated very convincingly that products of vaccinated animals are completely safe for human consumption.
Dil Peeling (Eur. Organisation for Animal Welfare) said that there is always a conflict between animal welfare and economic interests. He pointed out that the US have a very selective policy to import vaccinated meat (for FMD) from Argentina, but to refuse vaccinated meat from Europe.
Patrick Sutton (Eur. Consumer Organisation) added that the public need not know whether meat is vaccinated or not, so why make a point of it. Vaccination is a normal thing in the industry, so products need not be tagged with special labels.
Lastly Jean-Luc Mériaux (Eur. Meat Industry) reported that 60% of the pigs are exported to Japan (then to the US, Russia and Asia) and that these countries don’t accept products of vaccinated animals. And that, as a consequence, the Dutch retail business (supermarkets) does not accept meat that has been rejected by the US. Even though the OIE assures us that vaccinated meat is safe.
Mr. Mériaux consequently requests a thorough investigation to find out if all countries concerned accept OIE rules. In this matter adequate information and communication is necessary.

Then the panel discussion started, presided by Piet Vanthemse, director of the Belgian Authority for Food and Commodities. By nomination of the Dutch smallholders, Staf van den Bergh, president of SAVE-Foundation (for endangered species), was one of the panel members. The other members were:
- Joseph Domenech, FAO
- Bernard van Goethem, SANCO
- Jan Heemskerk, meat department of Unilever
- Joop Kleibeuker, European Dairy Organisation
- Volker Mönnig, head of OIE Reference Laboratory for Classical Swine Fever
- Jan Vaarten, president of European Veterinarians
- and Dirk Lips, professor of bioethics of the Catholic University of Leuven
Van Goethem emphasized that animal disease control will always be more difficult in areas with a high density of commercial holdings. Furthermore he pleaded for education in animal disease control in development countries.
According to Mönnig vaccination should be no problem, because of the availability of marker-vaccines. But he would like to know if there are enough vaccines available if necessary. ‘Maybe Europe should put out contracts for the production of vaccines?’
Dil Peeling thought that vaccination should be a first option in order to prevent thousands of healthy animals to be killed. And Joop Kleibeuker thought that social support of disease control methods were of the utmost importance. The whole chain of production should be involved and the pronouncements of OIE, EFSA and WTO about the safety of vaccinated products should help in this process. Staf van den Bergh indicated that involving smallholders will be very important, because up to now European Directives have no consideration for the enormous numbers of smallholders concerned. Export circuits are of no concern to smallholders. Furthermore, smallholdings have less risk of spreading diseases, because smallholders keep their animals extensively and not intensively like commercial holders. And that could justify a differentiated policy. But after several reports on the subject it appears that national contingency plans have no special policy for smallholders either.
The matter of public health was also raised. Vaccination could be a means to limit an AI-outbreak. But on the subject of vaccination for AI there is still no unanimity.
It is imperative that the EFSA (European Food and Safety Authority) should issue a clear policy, as van Heemskerk emphasised. As the EFSA was started in 2002 it has no tainted history. And so it could be an impartial player. Kleibeuker would like to change the unfounded attitude of countries like the US and Japan against vaccinated products, with the help of WTO, because the trade sector will only take survey able risks.
Then questions from the auditorium could be put to the panel.
Paula Polman (NBvH) asked what exactly the situation as to rare breeds is in the different national contingency plans is.
Staf van den Bergh replied it is far from ideal. Theoretically all member states will and must protect rare species and breeds, but practically none of the states act accordingly.
Then Sible Westendorp (poultry and fancy birds) asked if public and veterinarian health risks should not be the starting-point for animal disease control policy and shouldn’t there, in view of this starting-point, be a differentiation in policy for commercial and non-commercial holdings.
Dirk Lips answered that it shouldn’t make any difference whether 30 or 30,000 animals are killed, but that it only matters how many health risks we are prepared to take.
Jan Vaarten in his turn replied adequately that the one doesn’t necessarily exclude the other, because health risks with smallholders can be much less due to the way the animals are kept and to the different contact structures compared to those of commercial holdings. It is therefore important to agree upon adequate stipulations and conditions for sparing ‘pet animals’.
Support in this discussion came from a young French farmer, who said that consumers are being scared unnecessarily, and that vaccination could very well contribute to animal welfare.
On the whole the discussion was mainly about the ‘absurdities’ around vaccination. Someone in the auditorium said that for the farmers it doesn’t make any difference who is buying and where their products are bought as long as they can sell them. “We have always eaten vaccinated meat, so who are we kidding anyway?” What we need are short and quick tests and permanent expertise groups.
One of the representatives of the Dutch Dairy Organisation pointed out that they are more than willing to work together with national authorities and the OIE to get results by research as soon as possible. Kleibeuker (European Dairy) supported this statement and said that the Organisation will aim at a socially accepted animal disease control policy.

Vanthemse concluded at the end of the day that although the costs for one of the scenarios that prof. Huirne presented earlier, to vaccinate and then keep the vaccinated animals alive, are much higher than those of the other models, but these costs are based on the old fashioned assumption that vaccinated products can not be sold. He would rather like this model calculated with normal selling prices included. Vaccination should not be considered the same as economic losses. Vaccination should be an integrated part of policies. There will be open discussions about differentiation in animal disease control policies for animals that do and animals that do not end up in the food chain. Disease control can never be painless, because killing healthy animals is painful. But the industry must invest in vaccine research and in marketing vaccinated products without labelling or else vaccination will remain a problem and we will turn around in circles.

The second day, Jean Lelin, president of the European Federation of Insurance Companies, opened the discussion. Measures for prevention of animal diseases should be financially more profitable than killing the animals after infection is established. Holders of non-infected holdings in the outbreak area are easily tempted to infect their animals deliberately in order to receive compensation whereas they would get nothing when not infected. He also stated that insurance companies should cooperate in EU-association in order to spread the risks, so that damage payment can be guaranteed.
Prof. Peter Rudman, chairman of the veterinarian committee of COPA-COGECA (this organisation has 11 million members in Europe: farmers, producers and consumers), did not agree with the large scale destructions for FMD-crises. Animals are being vaccinated for all kinds of other diseases, so why not for FMD. And he stated that we will never control animal diseases from breaking out and that farmers have come to the end of their ability to bear the costs. Also, he went on, it is up to the governments to avoid unfair economic competition differences. And that there should be a European Fund for damage claims.

Then started, presided this time by François Souty, the panel discussion about the costs of animal disease control.
Renée Bergkamp, director-general of the Dutch Department of Agriculture, was of the opinion that the producers should bear the costs of disease control. “It is the farmers choice to be a farmer.” Rudman replied that farmers could only be held accountable when it concerned diseases within their control. And Uta Flebbe (director Niedersächsische animal health insurance) added that damage payments should be such as to prevent that holders can profit from infecting the animals (see above).
This discussion went on for such a long time that a lot of questions from the auditorium could not be answered anymore. The question that Paula Polman was able to ask, could also not be answered: “Do you agree that deliberately infecting a holding for reasons stated before, should especially be avoided because smallholders will have no more compassion with commercial holders, when they have to lose their animals just because commercial holders have more profit from killing than from keeping the animals ?”

Frans Andriessen presented the conclusions and recommendations of the conference. He said that in future there should be social support for animal disease control measures. The various parties, the industry and the retail business have great responsibility in marketing products from vaccinated animals at normal prices and without special labels. The producers should have greater responsibility towards preventing animal diseases. Export competition should also be avoided and there should be a system to insure farmers’ risks.

On behalf of Kyprianou, the new European Commissioner for Agriculture (successor of David Byrne) Jaana Husu-Kallio spoke the closing word:
‘There is wide consensus to use vaccination as a supplementary means for disease control, but not as a rule. Killing animals will always be necessary. Specific problems, like for instance the density of holdings, shall be solved by the concerning member states. It is not possible nor desirable to expect ‘Brussels’ to solve these local problems.”
And then she concluded by announcing on behalf of Kyprianou:
- External evaluation of the EU-animal health policy for 2005-2006
- A communiqué in 2007 about animal health policy of the EU to the Eur. Council, Parliament and the European citizens
- The foundation of a European technological platform for animal health and welfare, led by the industry, aiming at policy development and transparency (and the development of new vaccines).
See:
http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/animal/diseases/strategy/index_en.htm

Conclusions of the NBvH:
The Netherlands have used their presidency to put the smallholders in the spotlight. Thanks to the input of the NBvH during the last two years. In the Netherlands it is now widely known that there will never be any social support for mass killing of healthy animals when there are alternatives like vaccination. And when it comes to killing healthy ‘pet’ animals there is no support at all. The Dutch smallholders made themselves well presented by the stall, decorated with posters and by handing out pamphlets, and by the questions asked in the house.
It is of great importance that the OIE stated clearly that vaccinated products are safe and that they will advertise this. But by no means is the position of ‘pet’ animals safe. There are huge differences between member states as to the actions needed to control animal diseases. The economical interests are still too big and the battle for vaccinated products hasn’t been won.
There is as yet no clearness about the risks and the remedies of Classical Avian Influenza (AI). Different interests of experts, scientists, industry and poultry sector lead to mystification.
The NBvH will continue to fight for alternatives for mass killing of non-commercial animals in the Netherlands as well as in Europe. This conference will have a continuation in the second half of 2005, when the UK has the presidency.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Netherlands we will aim for the fixation of the Contingency Plan for MFD and for a differentiated Identification & Registration-system for smallholders (status aparte). And in Europe we will aim at the fixation of the AI-Directive.
Finally, we hope that the announced (by Jaana Husu-Kallio) evaluation of the EU-animal health policy and the announced European communiqué and technological platform will give the NBvH some possibilities for further actions.

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