Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues,
It is a great pleasure to welcome you today. This Conference on Transboundary Animal Diseases highlights the pivotal role of international cooperation for sustainable animal production.
The concept behind this event, and the issues we will address, are well known to many of you. But they are becoming more urgent those days.
A resilient animal production sector is a vital part of Europe’s economy. And maintaining a high level of animal health, protecting the sector against transboundary, infectious diseases, is an essential, part of our common mission.
It is no easy task, I know.
These diseases affect large numbers of animals; they can spread quickly and easily. They can cause significant production and economic losses, disrupt trade, and in the case of zoonotic disease can have a serious impact on human health too.
The European Commission takes this very seriously. Every year the EU allocates significant funds to prevent and control the spread of these diseases in both EU and non-EU countries.
But over the years, the stage on which transboundary disease plays out has changed. New actors have become involved and are changing the scene.
Increasingly, we are seeing:
- Transboundary diseases that are new to a particular epidemiological setting, that are being seen for the first time in Europe and its neighbouring countries;
- Diseases for which we need to develop new management policies;
- And, perhaps most importantly, diseases that can only be controlled through the coordinated efforts of many countries.
Everyone here today is well aware of the serious and sometimes tragic impact transboundary diseases have had on EU livestock, and the extreme measures we have had to take to control them.
Let me start with what is certainly the most dramatically urgent example: African Swine Fever.
So far this year, the EU has seen nearly 1 000 outbreaks of in domestic pigs and almost 4 000 cases in wild boar.
The disease has now been confirmed in nine EU countries.
- Italy – where it has been endemic in Sardinia since 1978;
- Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland – which have had cases in both wild boar and domestic pigs since 2014;
- Romania – where an unprecedented number of ASF cases were notified in domestic pigs this summer;
- Hungary and the Czech Republic – where the virus has - so far - only been found in wild boar;
- And only last week, in Bulgaria, where the first outbreak in domestic pigs was confirmed.
The encouraging news is that African Swine Fever has been successfully managed in the Czech Republic and contained in relatively limited areas in the EU, showing that containment today and hopefully eradication tomorrow are possible objectives.
We have discussed African Swine Fever at length and on many occasions, both at political and technical level. We know very what is at stake: if not properly managed this disease threatens to completely change the picture of pig farming in Europe and globally.
Any positive outcome in our fight against the disease can only be achieved on the basis on the strict implementation of the few tools we have at our disposal:
First, constant monitoring both in affected and non-affected countries to make sure that any possible outbreak is immediately detected and the possible spreading effectively countered.
Second, the application of the well-known and internationally recognised regionalisation principles - to ensure the best possible disease control and allow safe trade to take place.
Third, the implementation of our harmonised and comprehensive EU strategy to prevent – and eventually eradicate - disease spread. This strategy has evolved with the evolution of the disease, addressing all the possible different elements, from hunting to biosecurity, from wild boar management to the fight against our worst enemy, the so-called 'human factor', which was already responsible for some unforeseeable 'jumps' of the disease.
The first ASF case in Bulgaria shows we need to remain very vigilant. The fight against African Swine Fever will still be long and I can guarantee that this issue will remain an important priority for the Commission.
Since the very early stages of the crisis, the Commission has taken significant practical actions to fight the disease and to help the affected countries, including:
- the constant adaptation of the regionalisation rules;
- substantial EU financial support for surveillance, emergency measures and preventive measures;
- the immediate deployment of the EU Veterinary Emergency Team (EUVET) in hotspots for advising on disease management;
- coordination meetings, audits and trainings to verify and enhance the anti-ASF capability in the EU and neighbouring countries;
- cooperation at regional level, under the FAO/OIE Global Framework for the progressive control of Trans boundary Animal Diseases (GF-TADs) Standing Group of Experts;
- specific scientific advice from the European Food Safety Authority;
For the future, I remain ready to update our strategy in order to do whatever it takes to stop the spreading of the disease and start our walk towards future eradication.
Now let me turn to Lumpy Skin Disease, a disease that reached continental Europe for the first time in 2015 and spread quickly to seven countries in South East Europe.
Thankfully, we have seen huge progress in our response. The combined vaccination campaigns across South East Europe, supported by the EU, have led to no new outbreaks (so far) in 2018 – compared to thousands in 2016.
The common strategies on LSD we drafted together, two years ago at the Sofia Ministerial Conference, are seeing very positive results.
It is a success story that is shared by all countries in the region and an excellent example of how cooperation and collaboration in the face of these diseases can stop them in their tracks.
I am deeply impressed and grateful for the dedication and commitment of all the countries involved in this joint effort to stop Lumpy Skin Disease.
I wish you every success in your forthcoming meeting of the Global Framework for Transboundary Animal Diseases in Ohrid, where a Lumpy Skin Disease exit strategy will be discussed.
Another common success story is rabies.
Our efforts to tackle this important zoonosis, which has persisted for decades in Europe's wildlife populations, are edging closer and closer towards our ultimate objective: eradication in the EU by 2020.
Sustained efforts since the 1980s, supported continuously by the EU, are paying off. The ongoing oral vaccination campaigns carried out in many EU and non-EU countries are bringing us closer to our goal.
More worrying in the current epidemiological context is Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza. This remains an ongoing threat.
In 2016 and 2017, the EU faced its largest ever epidemic of highly pathogenic avian influenza. Over 1200 poultry farms were infected and the virus was identified in over 3000 wild birds across 25 EU Member States.
Unfortunately, we have seen continued outbreaks in 2018. In early July, the disease was found in Bulgarian poultry; a few days ago in a captive bird holding in Germany and a dead wild duck was found in the Netherlands.
And like all contagious diseases, this threat isn’t confined to Europe - it has a worldwide impact. The World Organisation for Animal Health – OIE – has warned that infection in the last year has been re-occurring in countries that have not seen the disease for years. It has also reached some others for the first time.
The Commission, EU agencies and reference laboratories are networking with international bodies and agencies to monitor the virus evolution and contribute to global vigilance and transparency.
And finally, a few words on Peste des Petits Ruminants, or PPR.
This disease was identified in the EU for the first time last June, in Bulgaria.
It is some consolation that to date, it has not spread to other EU countries. This is thanks to the swift and effective actions of the Bulgarian authorities and EU preparedness. Even before the first case was notified by Bulgaria, an EU Reference Laboratory on this disease had already been established as well as a first EU vaccine bank for PPR .
This is another case study that shows Europe is capable of tackling transboundary diseases and the importance of being properly prepared for a coordinated response.
All countries represented here today have had to face transboundary animal diseases at some stage, and deal with their often tragic and very costly consequences.
But the action is not just firefighting at the scene: it is ongoing, even when a disease is eradicated from a territory. Vigilance remains essential, preparedness remains essential, cooperation remains essential, to quickly detect and contain any recurrence, as soon as it appears.
Clearly, it is a common fight for all of us: we cannot afford to let our guard down.
And just as the diseases themselves cross borders and boundaries, so too must our efforts to work closely with countries outside of the EU and with international organisations.
This international coordination and cooperation is essential. I am delighted that we are joined by colleagues from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Animal Health Organisation for our discussions today.
The meetings of the Global Framework for Transboundary Animal Diseases continue to be an important vehicle for action.
The EU continues to provide financial support, technical support, vaccine banks to all affected countries.
I have been involved in a series of fruitful high level meetings to discuss and agree on common political and technical actions on African Swine Fever and Lumpy Skin Disease. These efforts will – and must – continue to be effective.
As I said at the start, the stage for transboundary animal diseases is constantly evolving. We must prepare ourselves for whatever new challenges lie ahead.
In every success story, the common thread is coordination and cooperation. Today is an opportunity to discuss and review our common efforts to fight transboundary animal diseases and to strengthen and improve them.
This is the starting point towards our common goal of a Europe that is free from transboundary animal diseases.
I look forward to hearing your views.