Conference on Animal and Human Emerging Diseases, Annecy

Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle

Mr President, Mr Mérieux, Madam Commissioner, Members of Parliament, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank the Chair, Michel Barnier, for inviting us to participate in today’s meeting. It is a great honour and pleasure for EFSA to be able to contribute to the work of this Informal Meeting of Agriculture Ministers and to exchange views and ideas on the crucial issue of emerging animal and human diseases.

As you know, EFSA was created in 2002 to strengthen food safety in Europe and bolster consumer confidence. EFSA evaluates risks across the food chain, from field to plate and from farm to fork. We also provide scientific advice and report on risks. EFSA employs over 360 people, 60% of whom are trained in science.

We have built a support network of over 1000 independent scientific experts – and I would like to take this opportunity to greet Professor Osterhaus, a member of our AHAW (Animal Health and Welfare) Panel. We also receive support from a network of 27 national agencies and cooperate with over 250 national scientific organisations. Independent in its scientific advice and its communications to the general public, EFSA is at the service of Europe’s risk managers, you – the Agriculture Ministers, as well as the European Commission and European Parliament.

In EFSA’s Founding Regulation (178/2002/EC) and in several specific regulations, the European Legislator gave EFSA a broad mandate in the field of animal and zoonotic diseases. We have carried out particularly important work in this area over the past five years:

 

  • We have produced over 130 scientific opinions and reports thanks to the work of the Scientific Panels on AHAW (Animal Health and Welfare) and BIOHAZ (biological hazards) and we have built up a network of over 200 scientific experts in this field.
  • We have also built up a solid Community network for the collection and analysis of data in the field of zoonotic diseases and we now produce an annual report in cooperation with the ECDC (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control) and experts from the 27 Member States.
     

The challenges we all face are growing, and these have been presented in detail by Professor Osterhaus, a member of our AHAW Panel and by Doctor Mérieux: the increasingly global nature of trade, the effects of climate change, the ageing European population, and so on. The complexity of the challenges and issues facing risk managers obliges EFSA to step up its actions. In its Animal Health Strategy for 2007-2013, the Commission highlights the importance of using science as a basis for shaping public health policies in the European Union.

To respond to the needs of risk managers – to your needs – EFSA has identified three priority action fields:

1. EFSA is preparing to provide the Commission, the Parliament and the Member States with detailed epidemiological studies and to offer scientific and technical support in the event of an emergency situation, such as the identification of an outbreak.

Work is already being done with the ECDC in the area of zoonotic diseases. We were also called on by the Commission and Member States in 2006 to address Bluetongue when it appeared and started to spread in northern Europe.

Bluetongue showed just how important it is, in an emergency situation, to have well-established networks of expertise and data on susceptible animal species, disease vectors, and geographic and climatic conditions.

For that reason, we have initiated talks with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre to be able to access and analyse their climatic and geographic data. This year, within the framework of Article 36 of our Founding Regulation (which allows the agency to fund cooperation with national scientific organisations), we will launch a project aimed at identifying existing data and data gaps in the fields of climate and geography. This project will help us in our work in both plant and animal health.

2. Thanks to the efforts of its scientific panels, in particular those of AHAW and BIOHAZ, EFSA is able to assess risks associated with known emerging diseases and evaluate the likelihood of these being introduced into the European Union.
To illustrate this, I would like to recall the work by these two panels in the area of foot and mouth disease and avian flu. As far as the risk of disease introduction into the European Union is concerned, I am delighted that EFSA, in conjunction with the French Food Safety Agency (AFSSA) and within the framework of the French Presidency, has organised a conference focusing on the assessment of import-related risks to be held in Paris on 3 October.

3. Finally, EFSA must help risk managers in the early identification and characterisation of risks associated with emerging diseases. To that end, we set up a unit specialised in emerging risks at the start of 2008. The unit, which has been fully operational since its inception, will work closely with the European Commission and Member States, with European agencies the (the European Medicines Agency and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control) and with the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health), the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), and the WHO (World Health Organization).

Over the past five years, EFSA has made great strides in the field of animal and zoonotic diseases.

Much remains to be done to consolidate the high level of health protection in the European Union. Whether now or in the future, EFSA will listen carefully to any recommendations or suggestions you might have.

And you can rest assured that EFSA, its panels of scientific experts, and the European and international networks it has developed will be available to support European health policies.