Biological hazards

Introduction

Zoonoses are infections or diseases that can be transmitted directly or indirectly between animals and humans, for instance by consuming contaminated foodstuffs or through contact with infected animals. The severity of these diseases in humans varies from mild symptoms to life-threatening conditions.

Research indicates that between one third and one half of all human infectious diseases have a zoonotic origin, that is, are transmitted from animals. About 75% of the new diseases that have affected humans over the past 10 years (such as the West Nile Virus) have originated from animals or products of animal origin.

Zoonoses are transmissible between animals and humans in a variety of ways.

There are foodborne and non-foodborne zoonotic diseases.

Role

EFSA’s main role is to assess risks associated with the EU food chain, ensuring a high level of consumer protection and animal health. EFSA’s independent scientific advice and scientific assistance on the food safety and animal health-related aspects of zoonotic diseases supported by data collected in Member States help European decision-makers in setting policies and making decisions to protect consumers in the European Union.

EFSA’s work on zoonoses includes:

Annual monitoring
The occurrence of foodborne zoonoses in the EU is monitored and analysed annually by EFSA and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) to provide the Commission and the Member States with up-to-date information on the current situation.

Collection of data
EU Member States collect comparable data on the prevalence of Salmonella, Campylobacter or other microorganisms in food or animal populations and send them to EFSA for analysis.

Analysis of risk factors
EFSA and its scientific panels identify risk factors that contribute to the prevalence of zoonotic microorganisms in animal populations based on Member State data and other relevant information.

Risk assessments
EFSA’s scientific panels carry out assessments of the risks for public health from infected animals and give advice about how new mitigation and control options will impact on these bacteria.

Recommendations and advice on reduction measures
The data collected by EU Member States serve as a basis for the EU to set targets for the reduction of these microorganisms in food-producing animals and foodstuffs. EFSA’s scientific advice helps EU decision-makers to understand the anticipated public health impacts of different control measures. The impact of the reduction programmes on the actual prevalence of zoonoses in animals and foods and related human health cases are then monitored and analysed in the annual EU Summary Reports.

EFSA is assisted by the:

  • Network for zoonoses monitoring data, a pan-European network of national representatives and international organisations that assist EFSA by gathering and sharing information on zoonoses in their respective countries.
  • Panel on Biological Hazards and Panel on Animal Health and Welfare composed of independent experts carrying out risk assessments and providing scientific advice to EU risk managers on foodborne zoonoses.