New EU law links animal welfare with human health

Presentation of a puppy farm petition in Wales. [National Assembly for Wales / Flickr]

A new regulation adopted by the European Parliament’s agriculture committee aims at putting an end to outbreaks of animal diseases through a “preventive” approach.

The new Animal Health Law will connect animal welfare and public health at an EU level for the first time.

“This direct link, together with an emphasis on a responsible use of antibiotics, will help us fight growing antimicrobial resistance,” liberal EU lawmaker and rapporteur Jasenko Selimovic (ALDE) said.

The text, due to be officially approved by the Parliament’s plenary session in March, focuses on prevention and control of transmissible animal diseases.

A number of reasons, including climate change, have led to a rise of new and reemerging diseases that have seriously affected animals.

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

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

For 2016, the EU has committed close to €161 million to support eradication, control and surveillance programmes that aim to eliminate animal diseases and zoonoses, (transferable diseases) as well as further strengthen the protection of human and animal health.

More than four out of five respondents in a recent Eurobarometer survey believed it was “justified” that farmers should have their subsidy payments reduced if they do not respect animal welfare standards.

Focusing on prevention

The new law also suggests measures to prevent and halt outbreaks of animal diseases such as avian flu or African swine fever.

It says that EU farmers and other animal owners and traders “will be obliged to apply the principles of good animal husbandry and a prudent, responsible use of veterinary medicines” and that the executive should have a supervising role.

“The European Commission should keep an eye on the actual use of animal antimicrobials in member states and regularly publish comparable and sufficiently detailed data to this end,” the text reads.

An overall approach

In order to ensure the effectiveness of disease prevention, EU lawmakers also decided to involve both the Parliament and the Council in setting up and updating a list of potentially dangerous diseases in consultation with experts from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

In addition, several stakeholders, such as farmers’ organisations, veterinary associations, and animal welfare movements, will be drafting and updating contingency plans.

“All disease control measures will have to take animal welfare into account and spare targeted animals, including stray animals, any avoidable pain, distress or suffering,” the draft law reads.

National database for pets

In an effort to limit the possibility of spreading diseases, pets also fall under the scope of the new EU draft law.

To help prevent strays transmitting animal diseases, MEPs inserted rules that “would require all professional pet keepers and sellers to be registered and empower the Commission to ask EU member states to establish a national database of dogs and other pets, if need be”.

Vets, according to the law, should be legally obliged “to raise awareness of the interaction between animal health and welfare and human health and better inform owners about the problem of resistance to treatments, including antimicrobial resistance”.

Satisfaction in animal health industry

IFAH-Europe, which represents manufacturers of veterinary medicines, vaccines and other animal health products in Europe, welcomed the new animal health law, saying it is a firm recognition of the important role animal health plays in Europe.

“Disease prevention and control through the responsible use of veterinary medicines, including vaccines, not only serve to benefit animal welfare but sustainable agriculture, animal and public health as well,” IFAH’s Secretary General, Roxane Feller, told EURACTIV.

She continued, saying that as disease knows no boundaries it is essential that everything is put in place to protect Europe’s animals and people.

“Animal health companies in Europe are continuously investing in innovative ways to prevent and control animal diseases and hope that the work being done currently on the medicated feed and veterinary medicines regulations will support the Regulation on Transmissible Animal Diseases by streamlining the regulatory system to free up resources for increased innovation,” she concluded.

  • 7-10 March: Plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg will most probably approve the new animal health law.

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