ANALYSIS - The European Commission has been accused this week of not listening to warnings from Russia over the potential threat of African swine fever and of refusing to accept a regional approach to allowing exports, writes Chris Harris.
Speaking at a seminar during VIV Europe in Utrecht, Netherlands, Aleksey Alekseenko from the Russian veterinary organisation Rosselkhoznador said Russia had warned the European Commission of the danger of the spread of the disease through the wild boar population before the outbreaks occurred in Poland and Lithuania.
However, he said that Europe had need taken heed of the warnings and put in place measures to prevent the possible spread.
He warned: “With 4.5 million wild boar in Europe, the disease can spread very, very quickly.”
He said that it is in the wild boar population in Russia and now it is in the wild boar population in Poland.
Mr Alekseenko said that Russia would like to be able to import pig meat from other countries within the EU that are not affected by African swine fever, such as the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy and Spain and even Germany, but the actions of the European Commission had not allowed it.
He said that part of the problem is that the European Commission does not recognise the Customs Union – the agreement between Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus – which allows them freely to export and trade pig meat.
This is why there is a discrepancy between the Customs Union trade and the European Commission over the way the two sides view trade in pig meat and pigs.
And he added that the EU had not taken sufficient precautionary measures following the outbreaks of ASF to isolate the disease, which is why Russia is refusing to take pig meat from the whole of the EU although it would take it from individual countries if the European Commission recognised real regionalisation.
The stance of the European Commission could mean that Russia will now start importing pig meat from other countries around the world outside of the EU.
“We are speaking the DG Sanco and DG Agriculture in the European Commission, but they are just not listening,” he said.
“This situation is absurd, but it centres on whether Europe is prepared to export safe food and safe animals to us.”
On a more general basis, Mr Alekseenko said that because of globalisation the time has come to change the way the world thinks about zoonoses.
“Global organisations need to change their attitude,” Mr Alekseenko said.
“We have to focus on monitoring and gathering data and analysing these disease outbreaks.
“Then during an outbreak we need to examine the data and act quickly.”
He said that while gather data about potential outbreaks and risk is important, every animal also need to be certified and every animal need to be given an identification number so that the animals can be traced.
However, he warned that food security faced problems because of the great volumes of food produced and moved through very diversified markets.
He said there needs to be a system to guarantee the safety of food through the local veterinary services and the safety of the animal feed also needs to be guaranteed.
“Our animals are as healthy as the feed is good,” Mr Alekseenko said.
“The world wants a steady and safe production and delivery of food.
He added that there is a need for broad concepts and international partnerships to guarantee food safety and the use of measures such as electronic systems for fast and effective notification of problems.
He said often the problem is not with the identification of risk but in the legislations that surrounds it and there is a need of new laws as a basis for international food safety.
He said that the Russian veterinary authorities are not only concerned about ASF but also other problems such as porcine epidemic diarrhoea, which because of its nature is a global problem.
He said there are also other concerns such as the use of ractopamine in rearing animals and steroids and hormones.
“This meat is not allowed in Russia – there is a regulation of zero tolerance,” Mr Alekseenko said.
The issues are expected to be discussed next week at a meeting of the World Animal Health Organisation in Paris.