15th January 2018

Controlling animal disease

As we move towards an uncertain post-Brexit future, what are the implications for the new Animal Health Law Regulation?

By Stephanie Young
CTSI Lead Officer for Animal Health

As we move into an era of uncertainty after the EU referendum, it remains unclear how the Animal Health Law Regulation (EU) 2016/429 will be applied after its expected implementation in 2020. This new law covers transmittable animal diseases and gives consideration to the links between animal and public health, the environment, food and feed safety, animal welfare, food security and the impact these have on the economy.

While the regulation does not contain provisions that regulate animal welfare, animal health and welfare are linked: better animal health promotes animal welfare, and vice versa. The regulation offers disease-specific rules covering foot and mouth, classical swine fever, African swine fever, highly pathogenic avian influenza and African horse sickness. In addition, it gives disease-control rules for a further 39 animal health diseases, including some zoonotic diseases, such as bovine tuberculosis, anthrax and rabies.

Increased expertise
All of these diseases are currently notifiable in accordance with the Animal Health Act 1981. A significant feature of the new animal health law is the requirement, under Article 11, for ‘operators’ and ‘animal professionals’ to have ‘knowledge’ of animal health. This knowledge will cover: animal diseases, including those transmittable to humans; bio-security principles; the interaction between animal health, animal welfare and human health; good practice of animal husbandry for the species under their care; and resistance to treatments, such as antimicrobial resistance, and its implications.

The knowledge required will depend upon the type of production and tasks performed. However, as a minimum, it must be acquired by professional experience or training, through existing programmes in agriculture that are relevant for animal health, formal education or any other experience or training that results in the same level of knowledge. Article 13 of 2016/429 also places obligations on member states. The competent authority for animal health must demonstrate it has the capability to take necessary and appropriate measures to carry out the animal health activities required by the regulation.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which has responsibility for implementing the regulations, has confirmed that local authorities fall within the remit of ‘competent authority’. This is defined in the regulation as: ‘The central veterinary authority of a member state responsible for the organisation of official controls, and any other official activities in accordance with this regulation (2016/429), or any other authority to which that responsibility has been delegated.’

To be compliant with the provisions of Article 13, the competent authority must ensure it has qualified personnel, facilities, equipment, financial resources and an ‘effective organisation’ covering the whole territory of the member state. This would be a challenge even before austerity; however, with increasing demands on local councils and central government resource, it does raise questions about what would constitute ‘qualified’ and ‘effective’ in future.

Recognising international standards
The regulation aims to implement the commitments and visions contained within the EU animal health strategy. It also aims to consolidate the current EU legislation governing disease control and livestock traceability into a single, simplified and flexible framework. Animal health law converges with the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) standards.

As a result, the UK will still have to demonstrate it has consideration for, and compliance with, recognised international standards for trade, regardless of its status as it leaves the EU. For the impact of disease on the UK economy to be minimised, there has to be robust enforcement of the legislation, to ensure there is no compromise on public health or food-safety standards.

Recent experiences have shown the major impact that animal health – probably more than any other area of legislation enforced by trading standards – can have on the UK economy. When costs from the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) crisis, foot-and-mouth outbreak, horsemeat scandal, bovine tuberculosis and control measures for other notifiable diseases run into billions of pounds, we cannot afford to be complacent. We must challenge what ‘qualified’ and ‘effective’ will look like for local government in future, for compliance with Regulation (EU) 2016/429.

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