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Press Release of 27 September 1996

Towards an organised fight against transmissible spongiform encephalopathies of animals in Europe

The Regional Commission for Europe of the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) (1) held its 17th Conference in St Paul's Bay (Malta) from 24 to 27 September 1996.

The Chief Veterinary Officers from 37 countries of Europe attended the Conference and gave a complete overview of the health situation in the region.

Classical swine fever, which affects almost all the countries of Europe and is particularly serious in central and eastern Europe, and foot and mouth disease, which broke out this summer in the Balkans, but which has now been controlled thanks to the rapid reaction of interested governments and emergency aid by the European Union, the FAO and OIE, remain among the animal diseases that cause most concern.

The Conference also discussed the economic consequences of spongiform encephalopathies and the potential danger that the numerous cases of these diseases ('mad cow disease' and sheep scrapie) might represent to human health. The Conference thus recommended regulations for international health surveillance of these diseases and the OIE will hold a meeting of the world's top health experts on this subject, in order to favour coordination of scientific and epidemiological research in this respect.

The Conference in Malta also dealt with two other subjects of importance to the region:

    The first was the surveillance and control of marine fish diseases, which constitute - directly or indirectly - the source of severe economic losses for aquaculture and the fish industry. The European Veterinary Services resolved to strengthen their cooperation in this field and particularly to intensify the surveillance and health prophylaxis of the most serious diseases, such as infectious haematopoietic necrosis, viral haemorrhagic septicaemia, viral nerve necrosis, furunculosis or fish tuberculosis.

    The second subject dealt with the harmonisation of veterinary certification, which is essential for the free trade of animals and animal products in Europe. In order to achieve such a difficult objective, the Member Countries of the OIE Regional Commission for Europe discussed several basic principles which would make possible mutual recognition of the certificates, particularly regarding certain practical methods to be employed, in order to avoid the use of forged or false certificates.

Finally, the participants adopted recommendation regarding sanitary control measures for competition horses, which would facilitate the temporary import of horses into the countries where international equestrian events, including the Olympic Games, are held.

This Conference has once again demonstrated the importance of international solidarity amongst the countries of Europe, in the face of serious health problems, and has shown that the resources of these countries allow them to preserve one of the best animal health situations in the world.

Paris, 27 September 1996

(1) The OIE, world organisation for animal health, was created in 1924 and has its headquarters in Paris. It brings together 143 Member Countries and is supported in its work by five Regional Commissions, one of which is the Regional Commission for Europe. It is responsible for informing and advising National Veterinary Services in order to protect public health and to contribute to the eradication of the most dangerous animal diseases.

Contact : Maria Zampaglione