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New Legislation to Tackle Animal Disease Outbreaks

14 February 2014

EU - New legislation to tackle outbreaks of animal diseases, such as African swine fever, more effectively, restrict the introduction of dangerous new pests and enable the EU to act quickly but responsibly in emergencies was adopted by the agriculture committee in two separate votes this week in the European parliament.

MEPs increased the emphasis on prevention, for example with better animal husbandry and use of veterinary medicines, and tightened the rules on importing plant products that could pose a risk to public health in the EU.

The new rules should help EU countries and animal and plant operators tackle dangerous animal diseases and the higher influx of pests stemming from increased trade and climate change. The two regulations approved on Tuesday, on animal diseases and pests respectively, merge some 50 pieces of legislation and update them to take on board recent scientific and technological advances.

The new rules clarify the duties of farmers, traders and animal professionals, including veterinarians and pet keepers, to ensure the good health of their animals and prevent the introduction and spread of diseases.

However, more focus needs to be placed on prevention, the agriculture committee said. To boost good animal husbandry and the proper use of veterinary medicines, MEPs proposed that member states should pay particular attention to antimicrobial resistance and ensure better access to professional training in this area when designing their national plans for the prevention and control of infectious animal diseases.

For instance, veterinarians must provide proper explanations to farmers, traders and pet keepers of how to use antimicrobials responsibly. The adopted text also says animal operators should be subject to animal-health visits by a veterinarian to their premises with the aim of stopping emerging diseases from spreading through the EU market.

To tackle diseases that have a major impact on public health, agricultural production or animal welfare and health, such as Bluetongue, African swine fever or Avian influenza, the Commission must be empowered to adopt urgent measures, MEPs say. But they insist that both Parliament and Council must have proper scrutiny over the measures adopted and the possibility of repealing them if necessary.

The measures have been welcomed by the European agriculture body Copa-Cogeca

It is a good basis to work on, Copa-Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen said.

In particular, Copa-Cogeca welcomes the fact that MEPs have clarified the duties of farmers, and other relevant operators of the food chain, including veterinarians, pet keepers, and the general public to ensure together the good health of animals and plants, and prevent the introduction and spread of diseases in the EU.

They also clarified the role of authorities to take biosecurity measures across the borders. Furthermore, MEPs proposed that member states should pay particular attention to antimicrobial resistance and ensure better access to professional training in this area when designing their national plans for the prevention and control of infectious animal diseases, recognising at the same time farmers’ professional experience.

Copa-Cogeca supports MEPs firm position to broaden the scope of competences on animal health to other qualified professionals other than veterinarians. This is crucial especially in remote areas or where a lack of specialised veterinarians is still a serious problem.

However, Copa-Cogeca has serious concerns about setting out rules and legal provisions both at EU or Member State level on farm visits by veterinarians or other qualified professionals.

Mr Pesonen said: "We still have great concerns as prescriptive rules will not address the real needs on farms. It is much better dealt with at farm level. Costs and benefits have not been assessed, and there is a clear risk of it being counterproductive, leading just to more paperwork and red tape.

"We believe that an open and intelligent dialogue is needed, where real needs of farmers are examined in order to help prevent diseases from emerging in the first place. We should build on the positive experience of EU Food Law where operators are given more flexibility; as long as standards are respected."

Copa-Cogeca nevertheless welcome MEPs request to actively involve operators in the implementation of several aspects of the new plant health and animal health law, like simulation exercise, contingency plans, and when drafting delegated and implementing acts. An open dialogue between operators and authorities both at EU and Member State level is crucial to ensure effective implementation of the legislation.

Mr Pesonen said: "We also welcome MEPs request to foresee under the new plant health fund the financial compensation for early eradication measures of invasive alien species which have a direct impact to plant health and agriculture. Without any incentives for early eradication, there is a risk of a negative impact on the overall implementation of the plant health law.

"At the same time, it is also welcomed, although effective only from 2017 under the expenditure regulation, the possibility to compensate operators for the value of the destroyed plants following the implementation of eradication measures for some important pests."

Mr Pesonen went on to highlight the fact that a good functioning internal market is crucial. Measures which are backed up by science and are transparent and proportionate to the risk must be at the core of any decisions taken both at EU and Member State level.

Copa-Cogeca meanwhile acknowledges the vote on the import regime for plants, but warns that we still need a very careful look to ensure a feasible and cost effective system addressing the real risks.

Wrapping up, Mr Pesonen said he understood MEPs rejection of the Commission’s proposal on the new seed law, realising that MEPs need time to work with such complex legislation.

Copa-Cogeca has constantly repeated its concerns over the lack of definition on heterogeneous material and the lack of rules related to the niche market. This could seriously affect the quality of conventional seeds.

Both texts will be scrutinised by the full House at the March or April plenary session.

TheMeatSite News Desk

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