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A common objective for the 50 Member Countries of the Office International des Epizooties in Europe: limiting the economic impact of animal diseases

The 19th Conference of the Regional Commission for Europe of the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) was held in Ma'ale Hachamisha, Jerusalem (Israel) from 19 to 22 September 2000.

This Conference, to which the heads of the Veterinary Services of 50 European countries were invited, drew up a full status report on the animal health situation in the region, where the animal diseases of most concern remain foot and mouth disease in ruminants, classical swine fever in domestic and wild swine, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, highly pathogenic avian influenza and Newcastle disease in poultry, as well as rabies in domestic and wild animals (see Appendix 1).

During the Conference, two other subjects were given special attention:

1. The epidemiology and economic impact of swine vesicular disease

Swine vesicular disease is a contagious viral disease of pigs appearing in List A of OIE diseases. It is propagated either by direct contact between pigs, by contact with contaminated faecal material or by ingestion of food waste. The resistance of the virus to inactivation processes can result in recurrences of the disease, as was the case in the Netherlands in 1992, then in several other European countries. The disease is still present in Italy, especially in an enzootic form in the south of the country. The direct losses it causes (weight loss, mortality of piglets) are not very significant. However, due to the cost of its surveillance and control, the indirect economic consequences of an outbreak of swine vesicular disease are considered to be serious for the pig industry. The main aim of such surveillance and control is to avoid any confusion between this disease and foot and mouth disease, which is also on List A and universally feared by all livestock producers.

The Member Countries of the Commission thoroughly debated the need, or otherwise, to maintain swine vesicular disease on List A. They purposed that it should be maintained on this list until a general study on the principles of classification of animal diseases has been conducted by the OIE.

2. The impact of animal diseases on livestock production

In many European countries, the most important diseases in economic terms are not necessarily those on Lists A and B of the OIE, but sometimes other diseases of an enzootic nature. It appears that European countries are heavily involved in combating such diseases, despite regional differences in the types of action undertaken and the relative importance attached to the different animal species. Actions in progress consist mainly of mandatory declaration of diseases, inspection of abattoirs and screening in the laboratory, and in certain countries, veterinary officials play a major role in the implementation of specific vaccination programmes.

The various levels of control applied to these enzootic diseases have an impact on international trade. The differences in terms of prevention and the health situation could, therefore, become critical issues when new countries apply to become Member States of the European Union.

The choice of Israel as the venue for this 19th Conference of the OIE Regional Commission has a symbolic value: it expresses a desire for a rapprochement between Europe and other regions of the world. It also illustrates the importance of international solidarity between all Member Countries of the OIE to combat any health risks associated with the globalisation of world trade in animals and animal products.

The Recommendations made at the end of this Conference should boost this solidarity and introduce concrete measures to combat animal diseases and to protect public health, both in Europe and throughout the world (see OIE Web site).

The 20th OIE Regional Conference for Europe is to be held in Finland, in September 2002.