Animal health is a key part of EFSA’s mandate. The concept of animal health covers not only animal diseases but also the critical relationship between animal welfare, animal health and food safety. EFSA is uniquely placed to take an integrated approach to animal health as its remit covers the safety of the whole food chain. EFSA’s scientific advice to risk managers adresses these closely connected fields based on the wide range of expertise of its scientific experts and the latest scientific knowledge available.
Many animal diseases can pose a risk to consumers via the food chain or, less commonly, through other pathways including direct transmission. Standards of animal welfare and animal management practices including feeding, housing and husbandry can impact on the prevalence and spread of food-borne diseases .
Well known examples include Salmonella, Brucellosis and BSE which can contaminate foods and cause illness among consumers. Outbreaks of animal diseases such as Bluetongue can often have serious socioeconomic and environmental consequences.
The regulatory framework for Community action in this field is set out in the EU Animal Health Strategy for 2007-2013 adopted in September 2007. EU animal health policy covers all animals in the EU kept for food, farming, sport, companionship, entertainment and in zoos. It also covers wild animals and animals used in research where there is a risk of them transmitting disease to other animals or to humans.
The EU has adopted a range control measures on specific animal diseases including Bluetongue, Foot-and-mouth disease and Classical swine fever. Eradication and monitoring programmes co-financed by the EU are also in place for diseases that exist in the EU such as Rabies and Brucellosis. Specific legal frameworks apply for some diseases such as TSE/BSE and Avian Influenza.
EU rules are developed in discussion with Member States through the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, but in an emergency the European Commission can adopt ad hoc control measures if necessary to protect public and/or animal health.
EFSA’s role and activities
EFSA’s Panel on animal health and welfare (AHAW) provides independent scientific advice on animal health and related food safety issues to risk managers including the European Commission, European Parliament and Member States. It has delivered a large body of scientific opinions on animal diseases and welfare issues for different animal categories chiefly involving food-producing animals including fish but also domestic and wild animals.
In October 2008 EFSA adopted a paper on the role of EFSA in contributing to the improvement of animal health in Europe. It sets out EFSA’s objectives to further reinforce EFSA’s integrated approach in the animal health area in the context of the EU Animal Health Strategy. EFSA’s goals include:
- Delivering the best scientific advice at the right time and in the most appropriate manner for risk managers
- Decreasing the time needed for scientific advice by enabling rapid data exchange between EFSA and relevant partner organisations, including Member States and the European Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office and Community Reference Laboratories
- Providing scientific support and analysis for EU surveillance programmes for animal diseases, zoonoses and animal welfare
- Providing scientific support for EU crisis preparedness
- Avoiding unnecessary divergence in opinions between EFSA and other relevant organisations such as national authorities
- Mobilising and coordinating scientific expertise throughout the EU on issues within the remit of EFSA
In the context of the severe outbreaks of avian influenza in Europe and the global spread of Asian H5N1 avian virus, the AHAW Panel issued scientific advice on the animal health and food safety dimensions to assist risk managers in taking appropriate actions. This included recommendations on the role of migratory birds in the spread of avian influenza amongst EU bird populations and the vaccination of domestic poultry.
The AHAW Panel has also played a key role in EFSA’s work on Bluetongue, providing scientific advice to risk managers on issues such as epidemiology, surveillance, transmission and control measures including vaccination and the use of insecticides.
Under EU legislation on zoonoses - diseases or infections that can be transmitted from animals to humans via food - EFSA is supported by a Task Force of Member State experts monitors data on zoonotic bacteria and parasites across the EU. This is a crucial part of EFSA’s work in the field of food-borne diseases. The Authority also provides scientific and technical support to risk managers for surveying zoonotic diseases and antibiotic resistance in the EU, as well as for the epidemiological analysis of Bluetongue and avian influenza outbreaks.
The Panel on biological hazards (BIOHAZ) deals with biological hazards in relation to food safety and food-borne diseases. It is responsible for EFSA’s scientific advice on animal and public health aspects of TSE/BSE, and has delivered a number of opinions to support risk management decisions particularly in the context of the Community TSE Roadmap. It has also delivered opinions on issues such as the food safety aspects of pig housing and husbandry systems, and on mitigation options for Salmonella in pig production.
The Panel on additives and products or substances used in animal feed (FEEDAP) provides scientific advice to support the market authorisation of feed additives. This involves evaluating each new additive submitted for authorisation by assessing the efficacy and safety of the additive in terms of animal and human health as well as the environment.
The Panel on contaminants in the food chain (CONTAM) deals with contaminants in the food chain, including the contamination of animal feed by undesirable substances such as mercury and theobromine.