26 November 2004, “Towards a socially responsible policy on animal disease”

Report of the EU parliamentarian conference on animal disease control held on 26 November 2004 in The Hague (Netherlands) and attended by delegations from 26 EU (candidate) member states and the European Parliament.

1.speech by Mr Cees Veerman, Dutch Agricultural Minister

        
Mr Veerman, currently chair of the EU Agricultural Council, stated that the Netherlands shall in future outbreaks of CSF and FMD only cull animals “at the source of infection”. In addition, protective emergency vaccination will be applied. He said that this policy may lead to high economic costs because of possible trade restrictions. This is a dilemma. In the Netherlands, farmers pay part of the costs, while in other member states, governments cover (almost) all of the costs. This may lead to competitive differences. The EU conference on 15-16 December in Brussels will provide an opportunity for further discussions on epidemiological, social and financial aspects, and all of society should take part in the discussions.
In answering questions posed by delegates, Mr Veerman said:
After the emancipation of labourers and women, we now live in the era of the emancipation of animals. Preventative large-scale destruction of healthy animals should not happen in a civilised society.
we need an effective warning system. Vaccination will be used to ‘attack the disease’. But we still need to kill animals.   

“I rather see transport of meat instead of transport of animals.”
we should separate the interests of the export agriculture and ‘agriculture as a regional activity’. The latter should be supported by EU’s rural funds.
“Animal products are far too cheap.” Supermarkets must take their ethical responsibility. We import meat from South America.
        

2. speech by Mrs Saara Reinius, DG Sanco, European Commission

        
Mrs Reinius wanted to tell “the story behind the lines”:
in 2001, the Commission allowed the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and Germany to use emergency vaccination. Only the Netherlands used that option. Antidote was available to produce enough vaccine. So there was no ‘non vaccination policy’.
In 1992, the EU Member States themselves wanted to end prophylactic vaccination. In an EU conference held in December 2001, prophylactic vaccination was again not supported, because it is difficult to predict which virus strain will hit next. Beside, DIVA (Differentiating Infected animals from Vaccinated Animals) tests still need to be developed further for a number of diseases.
The OiE has since 2001 reduced the minimum waiting period needed to regain the status “free of FMD without vaccination” from 12 to 6 months. This meant progress.
The EU has adopted new legislation on the control of FMD, and Member States can start emergency vaccination without prior approval of the European Commission. However, the Commission must be informed beforehand.

Mrs Reinius said consumers must be involved in the discussion about the safety of milk and meat from vaccinated animals. They must be told that these products are safe, and this also goes for imported products from vaccinated animals.

Classical Swine Fever (CSF) eradication has made great progress since the large outbreak of 1997-1998, especially thanks to the use of vaccination through ‘oral baits’ of wild boar in Germany. “We might be able to eradicate the disease from wild boar.”

So Mrs Reinius stated: ‘we are not against vaccination, but it is just a tool’, like bio-security, improved identification and traceability, and tackling illegal imports. Culling remains also a very effective measure for rapid eradication of an epizootic disease on many occasions.
        
She looked ahead to the EU Conference on animal disease control (Brussels, 15-16 December) saying the Commission will look at the current financial modalities. A complimentary market study is to be carried out in 2005, which will concentrate on the estimated costs for farmers. We want new, robust policies for animal health in the future.
        
In answering questions, Mrs Reinius said:
I come from Finland. When we became EU member, we had to open up our borders. I told our farmers: “now you are the borders!”. Communication is so important. A small piece of contaminated salami can cause a crisis. And the animal owner knows his/her animals best. The most common symptom of CSF is pigs not feeding. And safe movement of animals is very seldom.

3. reactions by the delegates

        
This is a summary of questions asked and remarks made. Some MP’s also made remarks about topics outside of animal disease control, please be referred to item 5 in this report.
Some delegates did leave the meeting before the debate with the four organisations (item 4 in this report)

Austria:

do not forget animal transport. The polluter pays?
We can never say: “there is no risk”. Who looks at long term toxicity?

United Kingdom:

preventive measures (e.g. bio-security) are important..
The veterinary services are under pressure in the UK: it pays better to look after cats and dogs than after farm animals.
we continue to raise production standards, but this also raises production costs.

Sweden:

we will only support vaccination for welfare reasons. Vaccination is not a sustainable solution. Even scientists will not know what is coming up.
The sector should be responsible, but the state should pay a big share of the costs
An FMD outbreak will also go through sustainable agriculture

Greece:

Consumers must be protected
To vaccinate or not: depends on the costs

Belgium:

stakeholders share responsibility. Consumers must participate in the debate. What do people want: cheap products or quality products.
Producers should have an income
Increasing size of farms causes concern
We should know more about the secondary repercussions of vaccination. There should also be a scientific debate about the DIVA strategy.
The dioxine crisis showed us there is no respect for animal welfare and animal life. More transparency and democracy is needed. Consumers should be informed about norms and standards.

European Parliament:

(Mr Maat) is it true that the European Commission is annoyed by the recent European Court of Auditor’s report on the reimbursement of € 1,616 million Member State’s costs of the 2001 FMD crisis by the emergency veterinary fund?
(Mr Maat) The OiE states that products from animals vaccinated against FMD are safe. What will the Commission do with this information?
(answer by Mrs Reinius to both questions: I have to look into the matter, we should make an appointment)

France:

we vaccinated against FMD for decades and it was never a problem. We need enough vaccines for a short response time.

Finland:

thanks to the Netherlands for leading the discussion about animal transport. We should take a step by step approach.
We will resort to stamping out, as we have a low animal density and no transport. Vaccination will be the last thing we do.
But other countries might use vaccination cautiously. This should however not raise false feelings of security.
We must look at the position of third countries.
Finland is free of salmonella.

Netherlands:

(Mr Waalkens) we should get rid of the “OiE article 10 status”, to avoid large scale culling of healthy animals. This also goes for Auzjezki disease. It would be ridiculous to cull healthy animals because of export problems arising when a region looses the article 10 status.
(Mr Ormel) the OiE is a daughter of the WTO so their rules and standard mean to assist trading. We vaccinate farm animals against many diseases, so why should food security be a problem when vaccinating against FMD or CSF?
(Mr Atsma) human public health must be part of the discussion. There should be an improved distribution of responsibility. DIVA is not available for all diseases. Marketing of (products from) vaccinated animals is important. What is the opinion of the citizen and what does the consumer want?

Spain:

we want good communication with regard to consumption
regarding Avian Influenza in East Asia: most people are not aware of the risks. We need perfect I&R systems.
We are against vaccination. We should reduce the risks instead.

Ireland:

this is a contentious issue
we must look at the costs in relation to the product. Our beef industry exports 80% of its production. We must balance the interests.
We should look at methods to increase resistance against diseases using genetic engineering. The question is whether the public will accept this. De consumer must benefit. We need to educate the consumer.
Feed imports are a risk.
        

Italy:

feed imports are a problem, now just recently there was a problem with feeds containing bone meal.
We don’t mistreat animals, otherwise one gets bad milk and bad meat.
Regarding information: “words can do more damage than stones”, so be careful.
We need an independent EU body for communication and to install an international network. (*response immediately given by EFSA: “here we are, at your service”)
The use of micro chips in animals is a possible solution

4.    panel discussion

        
Four organisations took part in the panel discussion:
COPA COGECA (Mr Peter Rudman, chairman of the Veterinary Questions Working Party). www.copa-cogeca.be.
EFSA (Mr Herman Koëter, deputy executive director and head of science). www.efsa.eu.int.
Wageningen University and Research Centre (Mr Aalt Dijkhuizen, chairman of the board). www.wur.nl.
BEUC (Mrs Willemien Bax, deputy director). www.beuc.org.

Mrs Elsbeth N. Noordhuizen-Stassen (Wageningen University and Research Centre) led the discussion.

These are the four statements used to get the discussion going, and COPA-COGECA’s responses:

1.Social-ethical aspects are decisive aspects of European policy concerning the prevention and control of animal diseases.

COPA-COGECA: social and ethical considerations must clearly be part of the decision making process when we construct policy in relation to major animal disease control. No single factor should prevail because we recognise that an event such as an FMD outbreak may have consequences way outside agriculture. While science will tell us what options are available to protect animal health and welfare, food safety, and public health, perceptions of how and why we do what we do are vitally important. Images of mass slaughter do not inspire sympathy for the livestock industry’s plight, however desperate.
COPA-COGECA favours a rational strategy that avoids unnecessary slaughter, or extended or unfair disruption of trade, and we welcome protective emergency vaccination in conjunction with slaughter as an option to consider. Public opinion must inform the debate, but without the mandate of sound veterinary/scientific judgement we could go badly wrong and destroy the livelihood of our livestock farmers. In the case of FMD, AI and CSF, all susceptible animals on infected and contact farms will need to be culled as quickly as possible. The best method of control around infected and contact farms depends on the epidemiological situation on the ground and may involve either culling, emergency vaccination or a combination of both. This depends on animal density and (past) animal movements, the particular properties of the virus, weather conditions, geography, etc

2.A successful European animal disease policy can be achieved when a solution is found for national and international trade in products from vaccinated animals.

COPA COGECA: the recognition that products from vaccinates are safe is absolutely essential.
The OIE has recently stated in a letter to us that their own experts and those at the FMD World Reference Laboratory, consider that there should be no reason to identify products from vaccinated animals, and that FMD vaccination does not pose problems for the consumer any more than most other veterinary vaccines. I should add here that initial identification of vaccinates and certain products from them are designed as animal health and not as public health precautions.
As with all aspects of this and related issues the communication of information about safety is a very important part of gaining the confidence of farmers, retailers, consumers, and others, in the validity of a control strategy. It isn’t enough for Governments to make re-assuring noises. COPA-COGECA believes that there must be a stakeholder approach to managing the message, something that we can all subscribe to. If we appear to disagree amongst ourselves we can hardly expect the public to be re-assured. COPA Cogeca has taken the initiative to set up an EU-wide stakeholders group of producers (COPA Cogeca), meat and dairy industries (UECBV and EDA) and supermarkets (EuroCommerce) to discuss animal disease control. This group has met three times. We also want  consumers groups to participate.

3. The potential risk for public health of different animal diseases should be the principle item for classification of animal diseases under European legislation.

COPA COGECA: we would suggest in response to this that the traditional OIE system of classifying animal diseases as ‘animal diseases’ is sensible and realistic. Animal health and welfare are important in their own right, and not simply a means by which public health is protected. We understand and accept of course the primacy of human health, but don’t feel that classifying animal disease in term of a potential effect on the human population would be of particular value. If the statement is about prioritising our efforts, there are other more direct ways of doing this.
We do of course have the zoonoses legislation on hand to help us deal with communicable disease from mainly microbiological sources. Even here classification according to threat would be very difficult and could vary considerably throughout the EU.

4. The financial consequences of the prevention and control of animal diseases under EU legislation should be taken by the agricultural sector

COPA-Cogeca: the response to this, not surprisingly, is NO. Too many other factors are involved in the prevention and control of animal disease to make it in any way reasonable to expect the farmer – or indeed any other individual sector - to bear the financial responsibility. The protection of public health in particular should be a co-operative exercise, involving all stages of the food chain from animal feed manufacturers through to food retailers. Approaching this from a different direction one would insist that if national Governments’ veterinary surveillance and bio-security systems fail to prevent the introduction of an epizootic disease, why should agriculture foot the bill for this lapse? As standards – quite rightly – are pushed higher, investment in future health needs to be shared among all beneficiaries if the aims we are being set are to be achieved.
It cannot be accepted that individual farmers have to foot the bill for something they cannot control.

The responses of the other three organisations to the debate are summarised below:

BEUC referred to the 8 key rights of consumers mentioning in particular safety and information. Civil society is not represented well in Brussels nowadays. BEUC is one of the main organisations representing European citizens through 38 organisations in 28 countries.
Mrs Bax also said: we pay more than everybody else for our products because of the CAP. We want good and cheap products. But we also want well-treated animals. We are ready to work with COPA Cogeca. We don’t want products from vaccinated animals labelled, because there are many diseases against which vaccination is used. Ethical issues only are not decisive in this discussion.

EFSA stated that its work is purely science based. But the EU agency observes that the best prevention is to help poor countries. Intensive farming is worrying. EFSA also sees a lot of hypocrisy in the discussion about on-farm culling of animals. These animals may be better off than those transported 1,200 km to Spain for slaughter. It is better to transport meat than to transport animals, we need mobile slaughterhouses. Animal feed is a problem, this is caused by the demand for cheap food. All players should be responsible for their actions.
        
Wageningen University and Research Centre stated that, by nature, consumers avoid risks and they might just skip a week buying meat if they get confused. The emphasis should be on preventive measures. Consumers should not pay to undo poor practises, but individual farmers cannot be held responsible. If you let the farmer pay for measures, the consumers will pay anyway in the end.

5.   other issues raised by delegates

        
Delegates had the opportunity to make statements about issues outside of animal disease control. The following items came up:

GMO

Austria: 12 EU regions want to obtain the status: “free of GMO”. These regions convene in Tuscany, Italy, in February 2005. Other regions are welcome to join. GMO free seeds are needed.
Belgium: farmers cannot take out insurance to cover risk associated with GMO. The political debate in Belgium is still raging.

EFSA said that it checks each GMO individually for safety for human consumption. It has just started work on environmental checks.
BEUC stated that 85% of European consumers oppose GMO-foods (source: Euro Barometer 1999). The GMO nature of ingredients will be stated on labels of foods. Consumers should have the right of choice.

Power of supermarkets

United Kingdom, France: take regard of the power supermarkets possess, importing cheap meat from abroad. Legislative measures are needed to prevent dumping of food against prices at a level too low to allow producers to recover their costs.

High costs and quality of food/feed imports

Both Greece and Malta mentioned the high costs of the import of many foods and feeds especially because of the high oil prices. Malta referred to the high sugar prices. Production costs are € 201,- per ton (?), Maltese consumers pay € 1,192,- per ton. The Maltese government contributes € 122,- to the costs of sugar transport. Greece asked for the use of ‘pure’ materials for animal feed: “we can grow our own cereals”.

CAP reform & European farming

Belgium: we are putting our farmers in great danger. But we should also help the poor countries, not by exporting export quota’s, but by helping them to develop their own markets.

European Parliament (Mr Maat): some member states want to cut back on EU expenditure from 1,14% of GNP to 1,0%. This will harm rural development as the agricultural budget is fixed until 2013. We need 1,3%.

European Parliament (Mr Mulder) There are 1,800 quality labels in the EU. This might confuse consumers. I want an EU quality label (“produced in Europe”) in order to help inform the European consumer about the source of the products s/he buys and to harmonise production rules across Europe. Unfortunately, almost all member states oppose this.

Status of science

France: people are becoming sceptical of science, we should restore credibility to science.

Castration of pigs

Netherlands, (Mr Ormel): we want an end to the castration of pigs. New techniques exist to avoid possible smell of pig meat.

Report by Klaas Johan OSINGA, COPA-COGECA / LTO NEDERLAND
Ljouwert, The Netherlands, 29 November 2004


“Stick and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt”
(thanks to Peter Rudman for these wise words)

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