Animal health is a fundamental component of food safety and security, and remains at the heart of the European Union’s Farm to Fork Strategy. Improving animal health at the farm improves both food safety and quality, and increases the sustainability of animal-based food production systems by:
- selecting effective strategies to eradicate or control pathogens that can affect animal and/or human populations
- reducing the needs for medications and minimising the risks of antimicrobial resistance and veterinary drug residues in food
- enhancing animal production
- improving animal welfare
- maintaining biodiversity in pets, zoo and farmed animals and wildlife
Animal health is closely related to human health and wellbeing. Certain pathogens can infect both human and animal populations or can be transmitted from animals to humans, either directly or through vectors. Therefore, the “One Health” approach is essential to prevent and control such diseases effectively in both animals and humans.
Safeguarding the health of animals and preventing animal diseases serves to protect public health, animal production, food security and food supply, rural economies, and the environment.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus continues to circulate extensively among seabirds in Europe causing high mortality, while the overall situation in poultry has eased. Epidemiological investigations of an outbreak in cats in Poland are ongoing, according to the latest EFSA-ECDC-EURL report. The risk to the general public remains low.
The number of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreaks in poultry has decreased in Europe but gulls continue to be heavily affected by the virus. The risk to the general public in Europe remains low, according to a new report.
The number of outbreaks of ASF in pigs and cases reported in wild boar in the EU fell considerably in 2022 compared to the previous year, according to a new epidemiological analysis.
EFSA launches the Bird flu radar, a tool to estimate the risk of introduction of HPAI in wild birds in the EU.
EFSA recommends that the most appropriate approach to monitor farmed mink is to confirm outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2 as soon as the presence of the virus is suspected, and then to monitor the evolution of the virus.
EFSA provides Member States with options for sustainable surveillance strategies under the One Health approach for priority cross‐border pathogens that threaten the Union.
EFSA launches a new dashboard “Monitor rabies in media” to monitor news articles related to rabies published in media.
EFSA completes a series of assessments and recommendations regarding control measures of Category A diseases under the umbrella of the Animal Health Law (AHL), assessing the effectiveness of prohibitions in restricted zones and risk-mitigating treatments for products of animal origin and other materials.
EFSA concludes that the risk for rabies introduction in the EU increases if the waiting period for dogs after rabies antibody titration test is reduced to 30 days compared to 90 days as required by current EU legislation.
With the publication of eight scientific opinions EFSA completes the exercise of listing and categorising animal diseases caused by antimicrobial-resistant bacteria within the framework of the AHL.
EFSA completes its series of assessments on Rift Valley fever (RVF) with a scientific opinion looking at the effectiveness of surveillance and control measures in the EU. It is followed by two opinions assessing the risk of introduction of RVF to the EU and the impact of the disease in the French overseas department of Mayotte.
EFSA’s role in the field of animal health is to optimise the health of pets, zoo, farmed animals and wild animals. The concept of animal health covers animal diseases, as well as the interplay between animal welfare, human health, environmental protection, and food safety. EFSA conducts risk assessments and provides scientific advice to the risk managers (European Commission, European Parliament and EU Member States) in several fields of animal health.
The main tasks and activities of EFSA’s Panel on Animal Health and Welfare and the BIOAHAW Unit in the animal health domain are:
- Collecting and analysing data on several animal diseases from surveillance and monitoring activities carried out within the EU and/or neighbouring countries, and producing quarterly/annual epidemiological reports
- Promoting standardised and harmonised data collection related to animal health
- Developing and accessing tools and strategies for surveillance and monitoring activities
- Assessing epidemiological parameters such as host populations, transmission pathways, and risk factors
- Assessing the effectiveness of several protective and control measures for specific diseases
- Developing projects and participating in initiatives to further support activities in the fields of awareness, prevention and control of animal diseases
To fulfil its role, EFSA collaborates and interacts with experts, national and international organisations, universities and authorities in the Member States, and develops networks and partnerships with European and international stakeholders.
EFSA has produced interactive disease profiles that provide user-friendly and evidence-based information on vector-borne diseases and diseases listed by the Animal Health Law (AHL) in Category A. The disease profiles are updated through seven continuous systematic reviews covering geographic distribution; experimental infections; vaccination efficacy; pathogen survival; diagnostic test accuracy; vector control and treatment efficacy.
Based on data collected by the EU Member States, EFSA produces, in cooperation with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), annual summary reports on vector-borne zoonoses in animals and food-borne outbreaks. EFSA performs various additional activities to support the control efforts aimed at addressing these diseases, several of which are classified as emerging infectious diseases within the EU.
Animal health and welfare data collection (SIGMA)
The aim of the SIGMA project is to harmonise data models and increase the quality and comparability of the data collected among Member States. SIGMA can be seen as an integrated approach to data collection, offering a set of tools to improve and automatise the processes for data submission, validation, analysis, and reporting.
Building on lessons learnt during the COVID-19 pandemic and following a One Health approach, the EU4Health programme 2022 provides support to Member States in setting up coordinated surveillance systems for zoonotic cross-border pathogens that threaten the Union. Under a 3-year programme (2024-2026), EU Member States will carry out surveillance for priority zoonotic pathogens in animals and the environment. Under a mandate for scientific and technical assistance, EFSA will provide the scientific framework for identifying the priority zoonotic pathogens that the One Health surveillance should target, and recommend options for sustainable surveillance strategies. The zoonotic pathogens have been prioritised and surveillance strategies for the priority pathogens have been developed using a participatory approach.
Syndromic surveillance refers to the systematic monitoring of general health indicators that may pick up early signals of disease incursion and has the potential to complement conventional surveillance systems. In 2020 EFSA launched a project to investigate potential indicators and develop early-warning systems for rabies and Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI).
A dashboard has been developed by EFSA and the European Joint Research Centre (JRC) to monitor news articles related to rabies published in the media, and to identify potential risks for rabies occurrence and/or introduction.
Wildlife is part of the food chain and as such its demography and health issues lay under the remit of EFSA. Wildlife often shares the same ecosystems of livestock as food-producing animals and they are often source and/or hosts of diseases with public health and animal health importance. A One Health approach in food safety risk assessment is nowadays fundamental, and wildlife, as an integrated part of agro-ecosystems, where food comes from, should be considered in risk assessment. To tackle wildlife issues, EFSA works with wildlife experts, by coordinating and funding the ENETwild project. It’s objectives are to collect information on the geographical distribution, abundance and structure of selected wildlife species populations, and to study the dynamics of their pathogens and their interaction with livestock and humans.
Support to Animal Health Law
Since 2017, EFSA’s Panel on Animal Health and Welfare has conducted risk assessments on several topics related to animal diseases and published a series of scientific opinions to address requests for scientific advice received from the European Commission under the umbrella of Animal Health Law and in support of its application.
Activities on specific animal diseases
African swine fever
African swine fever (ASF) is a devastating viral disease that affects domestic and wild pigs. In 2007 outbreaks of ASF occurred in Georgia, from where the disease spread to neighbouring countries, affecting domestic pigs and wild boar. In 2014, first outbreaks were reported in the European Union, where ASF is still present, affecting several countries. Since then, EFSA has provided advice and supported the European Commission and Member States in dealing with the disease.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is a very contagious viral disease that occurs primarily in poultry and wild water birds. Under certain circumstances it can be transmitted from animals to humans. EFSA, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the EU reference laboratory on avian influenza, and authorities in affected Member States publish quarterly reports on the epidemiological situation of HPAI in Europe and at global level, addressing both animal and human health. EFSA also analyses surveillance data collected by Member States on avian influenza in poultry and wild birds, and contributes to early warning of HPAI through several initiatives.
The larvae of the tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis can cause a serious parasitic zoonosis in humans, the Human alveolar echinococcosis (AE). EFSA provides annual assessments of Echinococcus multilocularis surveillance data collected by Member States. More information can be found in the annual reports for the following years: 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013.
In 2015 EFSA published a Scientific Opinion on Echinococcus multilocularis infection in animals.
Epizootic haemorrhagic disease
Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) is a viral disease affecting wild and domestic ruminants, transmitted by biting midges. The infection can cause considerable welfare impact and production losses, especially in dairy farms. At the end of 2022, the virus was introduced in Italy and Spain. Vector abundance and climatic conditions are favourable to sustain EHD virus circulation in the EU (EFSA, 2009). More information can be found in the recently updated systematic literature reviews and the disease profile.
Lumpy skin disease
Lumpy skin disease is a viral disease that affects cattle. It is transmitted by blood-feeding insects and is currently present in many African and Asian countries, where it may have a large economic impact on livestock production. Between 2012 and 2017, it spread from the Middle East to south-east Europe, affecting EU Member States (Greece and Bulgaria) and several other countries in the Balkans. Its spread was controlled thanks to a large, coordinated vaccination campaign co-funded by the EU. EFSA published regular updates on the status of the disease in south-eastern Europe.
Rabies is a serious viral disease that affects the central nervous system of mammals (dogs, cats, foxes, etc.) including humans. Each year, EFSA and ECDC update the chapter on rabies in their One Health Zoonoses Report with the analysis of the results of Lyssavirus surveillance and monitoring activities in humans and animals, and the geographical distribution of Lyssavirus infections in Europe. More information can be found in the annual reports of the following years: 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014.
In 2022 EFSA assessed the risks related to a possible reduction of the waiting period for dogs after rabies antibody titration to 30 days compared with 90 days of the current EU legislative regime. In 2015, an assessment of oral vaccination of foxes and raccoon dogs against rabies was performed.
A dashboard to monitor news articles related to rabies in the media was developed under the syndromic surveillance project (see above under Horizontal activities).
Rift Valley fever
Rift Valley fever (RVF) is a viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes to animals (domestic and wild ruminants and camels) as well as humans. EFSA, under the framework of the Animal Health Law, assessed the effectiveness of control measures against RVF.
Following the outbreaks in the French overseas department of Mayotte in 2020, EFSA performed a series of assessments on RVF and published three scientific opinions on: the effectiveness of surveillance and control measures in the EU, the risk of introduction of RVF to the EU, and the impact of the disease in Mayotte.
SARS-CoV-2 in animals
EFSA and ECDC have worked together on the assessment of health risks related to SARS-CoV-2 among animals and from animals to humans. The work particularly focused on farmed mink, as this species has the highest likelihood to become infected and transmit SARS-CoV-2 to other animals and humans.
In March 2016, the European Parliament and Council adopted Regulation (EU) 2016/429 on transmissible animal diseases, or the “Animal Health Law” (AHL), which has been in force since 21 April 2021. The AHL compiles a number of legal acts on several transmissible animal diseases into a single comprehensive law that enables a horizontal approach to animal diseases.
The main driving principles of the AHL are prevention, awareness, surveillance, control, eradication of animal diseases, biosecurity and traceability of animal and animal products. In addition, it includes rules to guarantee a safe and smooth trade of live animals and animal products inside and from outside the EU. Additional implementing and delegated acts have been published to supplement and support the implementation of the AHL. More information on the AHL can be found on the relevant webpage of the European Commission.
EFSA collaborates and interacts with several international and European institutions, organisations and agencies involved in animal health: the European Commission (EC), the World Organisation of Animal Health (WOAH), the European References Laboratories for certain animal diseases (EURLs), the European Centre for Diseases Control (ECDC), the European Medicines Agency (EMA), and the EC’s Joint Research Centre (JRC).