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Biosecurity and animal health

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THERE are so many awareness-raising events linked to specific dates in the calendar these days that one could do with a special diary just to keep up with them all. However, the latest of these — European Veterinary Week — is clearly of interest. Organised jointly by the European Commission and the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, the event takes place from November 10 to 16. In line with the European Animal Health Strategy, the theme will be ‘Prevention is better than cure’, with a focus on biosecurity on farms and at borders.

Events will begin on November 10 with a one-day conference in Brussels entitled ‘One health: healthy animals = healthy people’. The conference has been organised by the ec Directorate General for Health and Consumers. With keynote presentations from high-level representatives of the Commission and other international organisations, it will examine the importance of animal health and veterinary activity to human health, as well as discussing the role of border controls and on-farm biosecurity in disease prevention. Other activities planned for the week include an event emphasising the importance of biosecurity at borders, to be held at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris on November 12, and promotion of the biosecurity message at the Eurotier agricultural fair in Hanover on November 14. The awareness-raising efforts will not stop at the end of the week and one of the events planned for the agricultural fair in Hanover is the launch of a biosecurity ‘roadshow’ bus which, over the next 12 months, will be visiting various veterinary, agricultural and other animal-related events throughout Europe to help deliver the biosecurity message. Promotional material covering companion as well as farm animals has been developed to support the campaign. In addition, a specific website is to be launched at www.one-health.eu, with content available in all the official languages of the eu.

With globalisation and increased movement of animals, people and goods, biosecurity is becoming increasingly important and there can be no doubt about the relevance of the campaign's theme. The issues were highlighted in the plenary Wooldridge Memorial Lecture at the 2005 bva Congress, when, in a talk entitled ‘No longer an island — the threat of emerging diseases and epidemics in the interconnected global economy’, Professor Paul Gibbs of the University of Florida gave an overview of the disease challenges facing us in the 21st century, clearly demonstrating why greater attention to biosecurity is necessary (see VR, November 26, 2005, vol 157, pp 673-679). Biosecurity is a cornerstone of defence against disease and, as other sessions at the 2005 congress made clear, needs to be applied at international, national and local levels (see VR, October 8, 2005, vol 157, p 425; October 15, 2005, vol 157, pp 461-464). European Veterinary Week provides an opportunity to reinforce that message and the key role of veterinarians at all of these levels, whether in helping to develop and apply appropriate international trade rules, safeguarding animal health and providing certification for trade in animals and their products, or helping to develop farm health plans and advising on farm biosecurity.

Biosecurity on the farm can be seen as both the first and last line of defence against disease and this is an area where local practitioners have much to contribute. This last point seems to have been recognised in the recently published evaluation report on the Biosecurity Intensive Treatment Area established by the Welsh Assembly Government in relation to bovine TB which found, among other things, that facilitating the relationship between farmers and vets was central to the successes of the scheme (see p 523 of this issue).

Biosecurity is important not just in relation to farm animals, and the promotional material developed for European Veterinary Week also makes reference to pet movements and the different entry requirements in different eu member states. At present, as a result of a recently extended derogation under eu law, the uk, along with one or two other countries, can apply stricter entry requirements than other member states, but it remains a matter of concern to the bva that this may no longer be possible in two years' time when the derogation is finally due to expire (see VR, October 25, 2008, vol 163, pp 495-496). With pets, as with farm animals, there is a need to balance a desire to allow movement against the risk of spreading disease, and in this, as in other areas, it is important to ensure that the balance is right.

The theme of the week ties in well with the Animal Health Strategy that is being developed for the eu, which aims to provide a framework for animal health and welfare measures over the next six years and has many parallels with the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy (ahws) in the uk. Disease prevention and control form a key element of the strategy, and biosecurity and border controls obviously form part of that. The European Commission recently adopted an action plan for the strategy and details are available on its website at http://ec.europa.eu./food/animal/diseases/strategy/index_en.htm

As with the ahws, cost and responsibility sharing forms an important part of the eu strategy and this, along with its continuing importance in terms of safeguarding animal health, means that biosecurity should remain high on everyone's agenda for some time to come.

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