Innovation in animal health: Sifting the tangible actions from the political ideas

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

What we must never forget is that, no matter how well they are cared for, some animals will become ill with infectious bacterial diseases, and antibiotic treatment is essential to ensure good welfare. [Shutterstock]

This article is part of our special report The role of innovation in Europe’s animal health.

Over the past fifty years, the EU has done a stellar job in moving from a very fragmented national approach to animal disease control to a progressively more harmonised system of animal health measures, disease surveillance, diagnosis and control, writes Roxane Feller.

Roxane Feller is the Secretary-General of AnimalhealthEurope, the representative body of manufacturers of animal medicines, vaccines and other animal health products in Europe.

The added value of such an approach is demonstrated by the majority of EU Member States achieving ‘disease-free’ status of serious illnesses like rabies, peste de petits ruminants and foot-and-mouth disease, and a functioning, and most importantly, a safe single market for food coming from animal sources.

Equipping Europe’s livestock farmers with the necessary tools and solutions to play their part in keeping farm animals in good health, can help to ensure more efficient and sustainable farming practices. All parties unanimously agree that ‘prevention is better than cure’. It is clear, therefore, that innovations to support better animal health management are necessary, alongside the farmer working in partnership with their vet. Innovations include modern biosecurity practices; livestock research and genomics; adapted nutrition; use of new monitoring technologies; vaccines for preventing disease; diagnostics for early detection and therapeutics for treating infections; as well as better use of health data.

As Europe moves forward, more recognition is given to the fact that high levels of animal health not only impact positively on public health, through food safety or avoidance of diseases that can transfer people, but that animal and human health are inextricably linked. The establishment of the 2016 EU Regulation on transmissible animal diseases was a clear recognition of the important role animal health plays in Europe, as it highlighted that monitoring and controlling animal disease not only contributes to good animal health and welfare, and sustainable agriculture, but also to public health.

Now ‘One Health’ policies are starting to take shape in Europe and more actors are aware that working in silos will not help to address the challenges affecting our collective health. Ensuring our health, and that of our animals and the environment in which we live, is dependent on finding a balance among measures taken to protect health.

When it comes to addressing challenges such as increasing resistance to antibiotics, the balance can at times become skewed in one direction with political discussions and concrete actions often unevenly focused on the use of antibiotics in animals.

What we must never forget is that, no matter how well they are cared for, some animals will become ill with infectious bacterial diseases, and antibiotic treatment is essential to ensure a good welfare, and avoid unnecessary suffering, painful deaths or the need for early culling. Bacterial diseases in animals have to be treated effectively and efficiently, so vets need to be able to prescribe the most appropriate licensed antibiotic available, and this should not be unnecessarily restricted.

In this respect, the recent own-initiative ‘Report on the European One Health Action Plan Against AMR’ drafted by MEP Karin Kadenbach, calls for greater public awareness and behavioural change, recognising the value of vaccines and the need for greater research and understanding. A better understanding is the key factor here. Amendments such as a call for the use of last-resort antibiotics to be banned altogether in farm animals, or allowing the member states to set stricter rules on sales of antibiotics may inadvertently lead to measures that will see Europe’s vets and farmers – as well as pet owners! – lacking in the essential tools to protect the animals in their care.

The animal medicines industry in Europe plays an active role in the global health challenge of antibiotic resistance in balance with its role as a solutions provider for more sustainable livestock farming practices. We keenly acknowledge the need for thorough discussion on these topics, and how best to provide science-based and proportionate guidance in order to prioritise action to combat resistance and promote innovation where it is needed, in the form that is needed, to yield tangible results.

The creation of an EU One Health stakeholder network, which could see human and animal medicines industries, together with public, veterinary, and environmental health officials talking together with patients, vets, farmers, and researchers, etc., would be a great next step for Europe to increase dialogue and avoid any barriers to innovation, while helping the EU to achieve its ambition of advancing the union as a ‘best-practice region’.

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