Veterinary legislation is the foundation of any efficient animal health policy
The unprecedented challenges to animal health control and veterinary public health management policies are becoming increasingly clear. G lobal trade, climate change and the emergence and re-emergence of diseases that can spread across international borders faster than the incubation period of the majority of the prioritary diseases, make national veterinary services the key players in the prevention and control of animal diseases and in the improvement of food security, nutrition, food safety, veterinary public health and market access for animals and products. The more so in those countries where poverty and animal disease present serious daily problems that governments struggle to master.
In this context, veterinary legislation is a critical infrastructure element for all countries. In many OIE Member countries, the veterinary legislation has not been updated for many years and is obsolete or inadequate in structure and content for the challenges facing veterinary services in today’s world.
As a starting point in considering the characteristics of effective legislation, it is important that the veterinary services have the authority to enter livestock premises and other establishments and take the actions needed for early detection, reporting and rapid and effective management of any animal diseases as soon as they are detected. Such actions include the capacity to seize animals and products, to impose standstills, quarantine, testing and other procedures; to control animals and products at frontiers; and to require the destruction and safe disposal of animals and all articles considered to present a risk of disease transmission and to public health. These activities represent the core activities of veterinary services in the field of animal health control and veterinary public health and the legislation must provide the necessary authority as a minimum.
However, in today’s world, the scope of veterinary services’ activities is much broader than in previous years, when the legislation may have been promulgated. Society has increasing expectations regarding the rights of individuals and the humane treatment of animals. It is well recognised that livestock owners can be reluctant to report disease and will even seek to hide diseased animals if they fear that their animals will be seized by the authorities as part of their response to a disease outbreak. To facilitate disease reporting, the veterinary legislation should make provision for compensation of owners for animals and products seized for disease control purposes when appropriate. The details of compensation arrangements may be covered in other specific legislation but appropriate principles should be included in the veterinary legislation.
The emergence and re-emergence of diseases at the interface of human and animal ecosystems pose an ever growing concern to the OIE and its Members. Globally, countries and international organisations have responded to this threat with the discussions around the "One World, One Health" concept. At the national level, it is important to establish mechanisms for collaboration and cooperation between veterinary services and other governmental services, particularly those responsible for public health and the environment, including wildlife. Modern veterinary legislation should provide for effective linkages between the veterinary services and relevant bodies of government, including where appropriate definition of roles and responsibilities, and shared responsibilities for stakeholder communication.
Pathogens often do not respect the barriers between animals and man and it is important that veterinary legislation provides appropriate safeguards by facilitating seamless communications between veterinary services and other governmental institutions and providing scope for joint activities. Veterinarians must always be in front line for any animal disease control, including zoonoses, on the farm, but the veterinary services do not act in isolation. The regulatory framework must be translated into concrete actions at the level of the farm and associated premises and this depends on cooperation by stakeholders, particularly private sector veterinarians and livestock producers and processors. Some key disease control concepts, such as zoning and compartmentalisation, depend on an effective partnership between producers and veterinary services. Veterinary legislation must establish a framework for stakeholder cooperation and partnership, including definition of roles and responsibilities, rights and obligations of all partners involved.
I would also like to highlight that communication with consumers on animal health related issues is today a key responsibility of veterinary services. Consumer behaviour has a great bearing on food safety and the prevention of zoonoses and the veterinary services can contribute by communicating clearly on the risks associated with live animals and their products, and on effective risk management. In addition to food safety, consumers in many countries are concerned about animal welfare and seek information on how livestock are produced, transported and slaughtered. Veterinary services are the key governmental organisations regulating and providing guidance on animal welfare. Veterinary legislation should establish appropriate regulatory frameworks for animal welfare, including collaborative mechanisms with livestock producers to clarify their obligations and for communication with consumers and NGOs to inform them of government requirements and give them a channel for raising concerns.
As from the above, veterinary legislation must be updated to address these emerging threats and modern societal expectations. With this goal, the OIE is taking important steps to support Members. In 2009 the OIE issued a guidance document to Members (please consult the OIE website at https://www.oie.int/eng/OIE/organisation/A_Guidelines_Vet%20Leg.pdf) which provide them with a minimal framework to help update their national legislation in accordance with international standards. These guidelines also stress that legislations must scrupulously respect the separation between the legislative and the regulatory domain as conceived by the Constitution or the basic texts of all countries, and that the Veterinary services must count with all the legislative and regulatory texts necessary to ensure their actions in the entire country.
The independent evaluations done by the OIE on a voluntary basis to help Members comply with the quality standards of the Veterinary services (OIE PVS tool) consider the quality and the validity of the national veterinary legislation and regulation to be an essential component of the national excellence of veterinary systems. Once the Members who have gone through the PVS evaluation process ask to benefit from the next step, i.e. from the "gap analysis" process, the up dating of the legislation is a priority for the improvement of Veterinary services’ effectiveness as well as for their compliance with the quality standards.
In 2010 the OIE will convene the first global Conference on Veterinary Legislation in Djerba, Tunisia (please consult the OIE website at https://www.oie.int/eng/A_LEG_VET2010/ENG_first%20announcement.pdf). I encourage all OIE Members and those having an interest in animal disease control and veterinary public health to review the guidelines already published in our website, and to participate in the conference.