Animal diseases on the rise due to climate change, warns industry

Goats and sheep have been hit hard by the Schmallenberg virus. [Rikki's Refuge/Flickr]

Global warming has led to a rise of new and reemerging diseases, which have seriously affected animals, the European animal health industry has warned.

As delegates meet in Paris this week for the final stage of negotiations to reach a deal to cap global warming, the animal health industry has sent a warning message about the impact on animal health in the event of “inaction” against climate change.

Rising global temperatures have fosted new diseases and helped others reappear, according to IFAH Europe, which represents manufacturers of veterinary medicines, vaccines, and other animal health products in Europe. 

“The issue is mostly that diseases travel through vector-movement such as ticks, mosquitos, flies and other external parasites, bacteria and viruses,” IFAH-Europe Secretary General, Roxane Feller, told EURACTIV.

Due to a warmer climate, the carriers of these diseases can travel further north and pose a growing threat for animal health in the EU.

“Often these diseases require cross-border collaboration between countries, as was the case with the outbreak of Schmallenberg.”

>>Read: Jeremy Rifkin: ‘Number two cause of global warming emissions? Animal husbandry’

Schmallenberg virus (SBV) – considered to have come from Africa- is a new disease that appeared in Europe in 2011 and severely affected ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats). It resulted in reduced milk production and the malformation of new-borns.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), in April 2012, the total number of SBV infected herds in Europe was 3,444.

Similarly, Feller mentioned “Bluetongue” as another disease example. It’s transmitted by a very small midge and affects ruminants, particularly sheep.

“Northern Europe saw Bluetongue serotype 8 hit its shores in 2006, a new virus type which spread quickly and resulted in unaffected countries imposing trade restrictions on those who had BT serotype 8,” she explained.

Innovation and new technologies

According to IFAH Europe, there is an urgent need for innovation-driven policies as well as the introduction of modern technologies to adjust to the new challenge.

“In 2008, 45,000 outbreaks of Bluetongue were reported across the EU. By 2009, this number had dropped to 1,118 and in 2011 to just 39. It was achieved through vaccination and other prevention and control measures,” Feller noted, adding that a more harmonized regulatory framework for the animal health companies is needed.

>>Read: Eating meat contributes to global warming, says study

“It requires a regulatory process that cuts down on the administrative burden to allow companies to invest more in R&D and innovation; it requires quick action from governments to set up vaccine banks and speed up the availability of modern technologies to combat these diseases,” she concluded.   

Commission supportive of vaccines

Queried by EURACTIV, European Commission spokesman Enrico Brivio said that vector-borne diseases of animals were a specific concern.

He noted, though, that it is unclear whether and how climate change is actually influencing insect vectors population dynamics, related, for example, to the spread of bluetongue.

“Nevertheless, whenever a vaccine is available, as it is the case of bluetongue, the Commission supports vaccination policies,” he stressed.

Brivio continued, saying that the Commission encourages the development of any new modern disease control tool, like vaccines for certain diseases, and added:

“The Commission, the veterinary authorities of the member states, the animal health pharma industry, and livestock industry are in constant dialogue to identify priority disease agents for which a vaccine (or any other modern disease control tool like improved diagnostics) deserves special attention.”



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