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65th Annual General Session of the International Committee of the Office International des Epizooties:


OIE, the world organisation for animal health, was created in 1924 and has its headquarters in Paris. The Delegates of its 144 Member Countries form the ‘International Committee’, which is supported by the work of four Specialist Commissions, one of which is responsible for the International Animal Health Code. The OIE's mission is to inform and advise the Veterinary Services of its Member Countries, in order to contribute to the eradication of the most dangerous diseases for animals, including those also affecting humans, and to determine the health standards for international trade.

The International Committee of the Office International des Epizooties held its 65th annual General Session in Paris from 26 to 30 May 1997. The Chief Veterinary Officers of one hundred and nineteen OIE Member Countries were present, together with the Directors and representatives of eleven International Organisations, including the FAO (1), WTO (2) and WHO (3).

As in previous years, the session gave a global overview of world animal health.

According to the most recent FAO/OIE/WHO yearbook, the world animal population is estimated at 1.3 billion cattle (including 229 million dairy cows and 156 million buffaloes), 1.7 billion small ruminants, 900 million pigs, 58 million horses, 19 million camelidae and 12.2 billion poultry.

The diseases that affect these animal populations vary depending on whether they have been extensively reared or intensively produced, especially in industrialised countries. If we exclude from this status report on world animal health, diseases specifically related to intensive production systems (such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (4) or ‘mad cow disease’), as well as parasitic diseases, we can identify the major trends in contagious diseases (epizootics).

The most serious of these diseases, the so-called ‘List A’ diseases, which are the most damaging to the world economy and international trade, include the following:

Rinderpest only affects a few north-western areas of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent. It is controlled by a world-wide coordinated vaccination programme, the ‘Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme’ (GREP), aimed at eradicating the disease over the next ten years.

Foot and mouth disease is either absent or under control in Oceania, Japan, the North American continent and the southern cone of Latin America, as well as in all western European countries. It is being closely monitored on the fringes of central Asia and there is a special disease control programme in south-east Asia. Contamination of a region by this disease can result in substantial financial losses because of the need to slaughter affected animals and impose an export ban. This was the case in Taipei, China, at the beginning of the year when three million pigs were slaughtered over a period of a few weeks.

The OIE publishes a list of countries free from foot and mouth disease on its World Wide Web site (, together with the declaration by its Member Countries concerning all other serious animal diseases.

During the 65th General Session, Argentina and Paraguay were declared to be countries free from foot and mouth disease, where vaccination is practised.

Contagious bovine pleuropneumonia is still a major concern in Africa, with the exception of North Africa and Southern Africa. It has developed to disturbing proportions in east Africa and looks like spreading to the south of the continent. This disease, which is a major obstacle to the development of cattle rearing, can be controlled by vaccination and/or slaughtering infected animals.

Classical swine fever has recently made a spectacular comeback in Europe. The European Union's chosen strategy of slaughtering all diseased or infected animals has resulted in a very high number of animals having to be killed. The financial losses associated with this disease have topped 250 million US dollars in the Netherlands since the beginning of the year.

African swine fever has been virtually eliminated from Europe. It persists in certain sub-Saharan African countries where it sometimes causes significant losses since no preventive vaccine is available.

African horse sickness has been eradicated in Europe and North Africa and is no longer being reported in some African countries south of the Sahara.

Newcastle disease can infect practically all birds in all countries of the world, including farmed poultry, pets and migratory wild birds. It can be controlled by slaughtering or vaccination.

Other less spectacular diseases (the so-called ‘List B’ diseases) are nevertheless a source of great concern in some regions, including bovine tuberculosis (reappearing in many regions), brucellosis in small ruminants (which will be covered by a coordinated FAO/WHO/OIE control programme in the Middle East), trypanosomiasis and other blood parasitic diseases amongst cattle (in Africa) and horses (in Asia and Latin America), as well as rabies. Although rabies is coming under control in western Europe due to the oral vaccination of foxes, it is a growing threat in developing countries and more recently in eastern European countries.

Each year, direct or indirect losses associated with the development or spread of all contagious animal diseases total billions of US dollars. These losses can be even higher without control measures.

A considerable effort has been made to control such diseases. The Office International des Epizooties, in close co-operation with the main international organisations concerned, is boosting its endeavours to disseminate information and to harmonise regulations aimed at their prevention or control.

During this 65th General Session, the International Committee elected its new President, Dr Norman G. Willis (Canada), who will be assisted by a Vice-President, Dr R. Marabelli (Italy) and by seven members of the Administrative Commission representing all of the other regions of the world. These Members are as follows: Dr A.M. Babjee (Malaysia, Past President of the International Committee), Dr N.T. Belev (Bulgaria), Dr G. Murray (Australia), Dr C.A. Correa Messuti (Uruguay), Dr A. Tber (Morocco), Dr A.B. Niang (Senegal), and Dr G. Yehya (the Lebanon).

Furthermore, the International Committee authorised Dr J. Blancou, Director General of the OIE, to make preparations for setting up a Regional Representation of the OIE in Beirut (for the Middle East) and in Buenos Aires (for the Americas), with financial aid from the Lebanon and Argentina.

The members of the five Regional Commissions (5) of the OIE were also appointed during this Session, as were the members of the four Specialist Commissions (5) responsible for preparing the administrative and technical decisions of the International Committee.

OIE - President

Dr Norman G. Willis, new President of the
International Committee of the Office International des Epizooties

Finally, several important provisions of the International Animal Health Code (6) were adopted during the Session, in particular regarding bovine spongiform encephalopathy, foot and mouth disease, international transfer of animal pathogens, and the collection and treatment of equine embryos. Resolutions were also adopted on procedures for the assessment and quality assurance of Veterinary and Monitoring Services and for controlling blood parasitic diseases.

Paris, 30 May 1997

(1) FAO = Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

(2) WTO = World Trade Organization

(3) WHO = World Health Organization

(4) Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or ‘mad cow disease’ is a nervous disease of adult cattle. It has been observed mainly in the United Kingdom (over 170 000 cases since 1989). In recent years, some cattle exported from the United Kingdom have succumbed to BSE in Canada, Denmark, the Falkland Islands, Germany, the Sultanate of Oman and Italy. According to the OIE, these countries or territories can be considered as free from BSE. Apart from the United Kingdom, five other European countries have reported sporadic, indigenous cases: Switzerland (250 cases), Ireland (218 cases), Portugal (69 cases), France (27 cases) and the Netherlands (2 cases). Epidemiological studies of affected cattle in these countries have shown, in most cases, potential exposure to protein products of animal origin supplied by carcass disposal establishments.

A possible link between BSE and another spongiform encephalopathy transmissible to humans (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease) has been suggested on several occasions, notably by the British government on 19 March 1996. OIE and WHO regulations have taken this possibility into account since the early sixties in order to avoid any threat to public health.

(5) Five Regional Commissions (Africa; Americas; Asia, the Far East and Oceania; Europe; Middle East) and four Specialist Commissions (Foot and Mouth Disease and Other Epizootics Commission; Standards Commission; Fish Diseases Commission; International Animal Health Code Commission).

(6) The International Animal Health Code (the Code), adopted by the OIE International Committee, defines the health standards recommended for international trade in animals and animal products. The Agreement of the World Trade Organization on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures specifies the use of these standards.