Members of the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Latvian presidency of the European Council of Ministers have reached an informal agreement on new measures to prevent and deal with animal diseases in Europe.
The draft Animal Health Law was proposed by the European Commission in May 2013 (http://veterinaryrecord.bmj.com/content/172/20/512.full http://veterinaryrecord.bmj.com/content/172/20/513.extract) and has since been working its way through the European legislative process. The purpose of the new law is to lay down rules for the prevention and control of animal diseases that are transmissible to other animals or to people. In a press release on June 1 announcing that the informal agreement had been reached, the European Parliament said that the new law would ‘merge and update many scattered items of old legislation, so as to help prevent and halt new outbreaks and keep pace with scientific progress’.
The agreed text of the new legislation still needs to be approved by the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee, which could possibly happen on June 17. It will then be scrutinised by the European Council and, once the council has delivered its position on the result of the negotiations that have taken place, the draft law will need to be approved by the European Parliament as a whole at a second reading.
‘After 40 years of fighting for animals in Europe, I can finally see the finishing line,’ said Marit Paulsen, the Swedish MEP who steered the legislation through the European Parliament and headed the parliament’s negotiating team.
‘This law will be an important toolbox for the future . . . [It] will establish the first ever link between animal welfare and public health in EU law, and will be an important tool for fighting antimicrobial resistance in humans, animals and the environment.’
The new legislation will put greater emphasis on the prevention of disease problems. It will require farmers and other animal owners and traders to apply the principles of good animal husbandry and adopt a prudent and responsible approach to the use of veterinary medicines. Ms Paulsen added that, in future, this would make it considerably more difficult to use antimicrobials as an ‘umbrella’ to cover poor animal husbandry.
As part of their agreement, the European Parliament, European Commission and European Council issued a joint statement calling on EU member states to collect ‘relevant, comparable and sufficiently detailed data’ on the actual use of antimicrobial medicinal products in animals and to send these data to the European Commission, which should then publish them regularly.
The new law will give the European Commission the powers needed to take urgent measures immediately to tackle emerging diseases that could have a highly significant impact on public health, agricultural production or animal health and welfare. MEPs have included provisions to involve both the European Parliament and European Council in establishing and updating a list of potentially dangerous diseases, including African swine fever, avian influenza and foot-and-mouth disease, in consultation with experts from the European Food Safety Authority.
Another provision is for the involvement of stakeholders, such as farmers’ organisations, veterinary associations and animal welfare bodies, in drafting and updating contingency plans.
According to the European Parliament’s press release, the text agreed states that 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 agreed rules also explicitly lay out the responsibilities of farmers, traders and animal professionals, including veterinarians and pet owners, to ensure the good health of their animals and to avoid introducing or spreading diseases. ‘For instance,’ says the European Parliament, ‘vets 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 the antimicrobial resistance.’
Provisions have also been included to require all professional pet keepers and sellers to be registered and to give the European Commission the power to ask EU member states to establish a computer database of dogs and other pets if needs be.
‘This is an extremely good example for legislation on the European level,’ said Ms Paulsen. ‘Citizens who work with animals, whether it is farmers, veterinarians or those working in slaughterhouses, can read this law because it is clear and understandable.’