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The new mandates of the OIE

Two new areas of work for the OIE – animal welfare and food safety – were identified as priorities in the 2001-2005 OIE Strategic Plan. OIE Member Countries had decided that, as the international reference organisation for animal health and zoonoses, the OIE must provide international leadership on animal welfare and that the OIE needed to strengthen its standard-setting activities in food safety. For each topic, an Ad hoc Group of experts was convened by the Director General and drafted recommendations for discussion by the International Committee. At the 70th General Session in May 2002, the International Committee adopted resolutions based on these recommendations, defining the role of the OIE in these two new areas.

Animal production food safety

The OIE's goal for animal production food safety is to reduce food-borne risks to human health due to hazards arising from animals. In this context, a hazard is defined as a biological, chemical or physical agent in food with the potential to cause an adverse health effect. This definition includes pathogens which do not cause clinical signs in animals, and which may need to be added to the OIE list of notifiable diseases. The OIE recognises that this goal can be achieved in collaboration with the WHO, the FAO and their subsidiary bodies, particularly the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC). To this end, the OIE has already moved to strengthen formal and informal relationships with such international agencies and with relevant expert groups.

The Working Group created by the OIE to deal with food safety issues, which includes in its membership the President of the CAC, reflects a broad geographic base and will give special consideration to the needs of developing countries. At its first meeting in November 2002, the Working Group plans to draw up a detailed work programme for the OIE on the development of recommendations on animal production food safety covering pre-slaughter issues and those prior to the first transformation of the animal products, with the primary focus being on food safety measures applicable at the farm level. The Working Group will also review existing International Animal Health Code chapters dealing with food safety and zoonoses, and recommend necessary changes in standards and additional work in accordance with the overall work programme proposed by the Working Group.

Animal welfare

On animal welfare, the International Committee recognised that, as animal welfare was a complex, multi-faceted public policy issue which included scientific, ethical, economic and political dimensions, the OIE needed to develop a detailed vision and strategy incorporating and balancing these dimensions. The International Committee decided that, in the work on this issue, the OIE would give priority to the welfare of animals used in agriculture and aquaculture and that, within that group, the topics of transportation, humane slaughter and killing for disease control be addressed first, followed by housing and management. Other topics, such as research animals and wildlife, would be addressed as resources permitted.

The Director General has also formed a permanent Working Group to coordinate and manage these animal welfare activities. At its first meeting in October, the Working Group saw as its primary task the development of policies and guiding principles to provide a sound foundation from which to elaborate draft recommendations and standards in its area of work. The Working Group then developed a detailed work programme for the first year, including how specific topics would be addressed through Ad hoc Groups utilising expertise inside and outside government.

Although participation by non-governmental organisations in OIE standard-setting activities is not the norm, the OIE is aware of the importance of involvement by a broad range of stakeholders in discussions on this complex topic. It is keen to make use of all available expertise and resources, including those from academia, the research community, industry and other relevant organisations, to ensure the best outcomes, and has commenced discussions with various non-governmental organisations. The OIE, however, recognises that it must be careful to ensure that the organisations presenting advice represent a broad international view as standards, guidelines and recommendations developed by the OIE must be relevant to all its Member Countries.

The OIE will report again on its work in these two new areas at the General Session in May 2003.

The Delegates of the Member Countries have already confirmed their interest and the interest of their Veterinary Services in these new areas of work, and reiterated their wish that all new proposals being made to them for adoption by the International Committee be entirely science-based.

Bernard Vallat

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