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Cost sharing in Europe

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DOCUMENTS emanating from Brussels are often seen as a cure for insomnia, but a recent report on developing the European Community's animal health policy cahp) could break the mould. While many ec documents are dismissed as ‘worthy but dull’, this one is actually very interesting. It is also likely to be hugely significant, in that it could shape Europe's animal health policy for years to come.

Plans for a new strategy were announced by the European Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner, Markos Kyprianou, in December 2004, who pointed out that ‘The devastating consequences of diseases like foot-and-mouth disease or avian influenza demonstrate the importance of a strong and effective animal health policy at eu level.’ The aim would be ‘to develop the policy of disease prevention, make emergency vaccination a more viable option, simplify the legislation and make better use of financial resources’. The report that has now been published* represents the outcome of a detailed evaluation of existing policies and options for change, involving widespread consultation with stakeholders both inside and outside the eu (see VR, May 27, 2006, vol 158, p 709). It will underpin discussions in the ec over the next few months, which will determine the eu's animal health strategy from 2007 to 2013.

Developing an animal health strategy that can be applied across 25 eu member states is no small task, as anyone who has followed the progress of the ukapos;s Animal Health and Welfare Strategy (ahws) over the past few years will appreciate. Nevertheless, a key conclusion from the report is that an eu-wide strategy is achievable and necessary. The creation of the Single Market in 1993 was a major force in harmonising animal health controls across eu member states but, since then, European policy has to an extent evolved on an ad hoc basis, with action being driven by major public health concerns such as bse, outbreaks of epizootic diseases such as classical swine fever and foot-and mouth disease and, more recently, concerns about avian influenza. New disease challenges will continue to arise and, it is argued, there is a need for a more integrated approach. In particular, the report presses for a strategy in which the main emphasis is on preventing disease, in addition to being able to respond quickly to disease outbreaks, and it sees ‘creating a stronger culture of biosecurity at all levels’ as an essential step in achieving this aim.

The emphasis on disease prevention, which reflects the approach taken in the uk's ahws, makes sense in animal and public health terms; it also makes sense economically, which, it is clear from the report, is another primary concern. As the report comments, ‘The total expenditure on emergency action can in some years dwarf expenditure under the cahp budget.’ The report is as much concerned with managing economic risk as disease risks and, in this respect, it clearly sees ‘cost sharing’ as a means of killing two birds with one stone.

The uk government is advocating cost sharing — with producers bearing more of the costs and taking more responsibility for disease control — as part of the ahws (see VR, July 22, 2006, vol 159, p 93), but the ec report argues the case even more bluntly. It suggests that current eu compensation arrangements can in some circumstances act as a disincentive to disease prevention, and distort the way funds are distributed between member states. It further suggests that ‘The mere existence of a cost-sharing system seems to provide incentives for farmers to consider more effective biosecurity systems.’ It calls for a harmonised framework for cost and responsibility sharing across the eu, aimed at encouraging a culture of biosecurity. This could be applied flexibly by member states, in line with the principle of subsidiarity, and would be linked to a disease classification system, which would determine priorities at eu level. It accepts that ‘There is a clear responsibility of eu or member states' governments for public prevention and control measures to manage the risk of publicly relevant diseases.’ At the same time, however, it emphasises the responsibilities of farmers and, in discussing possible cost-sharing schemes, makes clear that farmers will be expected to contribute more to the cost of controlling disease outbreaks in future.

The report takes a very broad look at Europe's animal health controls and many of its observations — such as those concerning border controls, veterinary capability, animal movement and traceability, and disease surveillance and research — are eminently sensible. The proposals on cost sharing will be more contentious, but they do seem to indicate the way things are going.

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