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The spectre of avian flu means animal health must be a European Parliament priority

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By Roxane Feller, secretary general of AnimalhealthEurope, Europe’s animal health association

The growing risk of a livestock disease crossover – as the world is witnessing with the spread of avian flu into dairy cattle – is precisely why the EU has long been a champion for improved animal health within its agrifood systems. The speed with which vaccines were developed and deployed to protect livestock against outbreaks of bluetongue virus in recent weeks, for instance, showcases the cutting-edge nature of Europe’s animal health sector.

Yet, the threat of diseases like avian flu is not the only challenge facing the continent’s food supply. Growing climate impacts, including increasing heat, drought and flooding, are also placing increasing burdens on Europe’s farmers to produce food more sustainably.

With a new parliament taking its seat in July, EU policymakers must therefore continue to leverage this strong continental legacy of support for better animal health.

Doing so will not only empower farmers to feed the continent more sustainably but will also build their resilience against rising climate and disease challenges worldwide. Despite drastic changes to the make-up of the EU Parliament following the recent elections, good animal health should continue to be a cross-party priority, given it is the foundation for improved human and environmental health for us all.

To put animal health as a priority, this first means that EU policymakers must recognise animal health as central to the bloc’s agenda for the future.

The EU must ensure that support for the animal health sector, and its contributions to achieving the bloc’s agenda – from reducing emissions to improving the sustainability of the continent’s food production – is prioritised through ongoing legislation and dialogues.

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For example, the animal health sector can play a key role in the outcomes of the Strategic Dialogue, which was launched by the EU to shape a future for the continent’s agriculture which better supports farmers and their needs.

Supporting improved health interventions for the continent’s livestock, whether through the provisioning of new technologies like vaccines or training more veterinarians, can deliver a multitude of benefits for Europe’s farmers and the communities they serve.

This would not only protect farmers’ livelihoods against rising disease threats but would also help ensure more sustainable food production and fewer losses to disease. Any future support for Europe’s farmers, therefore, cannot come without provisions for better animal health.

Secondly, to leverage the full potential of the animal health sector and fuel improved health and sustainability outcomes, a competitive European veterinary medicine sector must be maintained.

To achieve this, regulation and policy must reflect the realities of the livestock sector, supporting a more forward-thinking approach to animal health and its multitude of benefits.

France’s recent vaccination campaign for ducks, for instance, was an effective response against the threat of avian flu, yet at the same time demonstrated the challenges that remain from a sometimes contradictory policy environment for the animal health and welfare versus trade.

For instance, although vaccination undoubtedly helped to save lives and protect the livelihoods of France’s farmers, this move nonetheless triggered a wave of import restrictions from France’s trading partners.

Yet, despite these challenges, Europe continues to be a world leader in animal health and must further enshrine this legacy.

Europe’s policymakers can do this by continuing to support a vibrant and competitive veterinary medicines sector to deliver much-needed products to address rising disease challenges. This means ensuring legislation supports the animal health sector in playing a leading role in helping the continent meet its sustainability and future agrifood agenda.

Finally, EU policymakers must recognise the role of animal health in empowering farmers to produce more food, more sustainably.

With animal diseases causing the loss of at least 20% of livestock production globally each year, supporting farmers with greater access to veterinary services and the latest animal health products can empower them to feed the continent more sustainably, while safeguarding their livelihoods.

Crucially, this means listening to and understanding the challenges facing the continent’s farmers, while also supporting them with greater access to veterinary services and all animal health products – access to which is not uniform across the continent. Doing so will not only safeguard their livelihoods, but also protect their contribution to continent-wide food security.

From climate change to discontent among farmers around the direction of the bloc’s agrifood agenda, the to-do list of the EU’s next parliament will undoubtedly be stacked, with attention diverted in many different directions.

By putting animal health front and centre, the EU can ensure not only that the continent weathers rising threats to food production but that it can also take the first steps needed to create a more sustainable and healthy future for all.

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EU Reporter publishes articles from a variety of outside sources which express a wide range of viewpoints. The positions taken in these articles are not necessarily those of EU Reporter.

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