Parliamentary intern Anthony Ridge attends the World Organisation for Animal Health's annual conference in Paris.
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I had expected this internship to broaden my horizons regarding ‘what a vet does’, but I had not expected it to extend beyond the UK borders. However, last month I had the opportunity to do just that as I boarded the Eurostar to Paris to join the UK delegation at the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) General Session.
My first impression was the global nature of the meeting, which included delegates from Europe, North and South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, the Far East and Oceania. It was impossible to ignore the linguistic diversity and I was particularly grateful for the services of translators.
The OIE was created in 1924 following an outbreak of rinderpest in Belgium originating from imported animals. It created the first internationally agreed ‘sanitary standards’ for safe international animal trade and, over the past 93 years, has grown both in size and remit. It now has over 180 member countries covering the vast majority of the world population and its standards relating to animal health and zoonoses are officially recognised by the World Trade Organization as the reference standards for international trade. It also plays a major role in international disease surveillance, offers services to help member countries improve the quality of their veterinary services, and, since 2001, has increasingly played a role in setting standards for animal welfare.
Anthony (left) with Sheila Voas, Chief Veterinary Officer for Scotland (centre) and Graeme Cooke, Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer for the UK (right)
Every year at the General Session in Paris, delegates gather to form the ‘World Assembly’. They are tasked with approving resolutions; for example, updating the standards that countries are obliged to meet and formally recognising national disease risk statuses. Diplomacy is paramount and trade implications underpin most discussions.
This year, over 30 new resolutions were passed. One included official recognition of Scotland and Northern Ireland as regions with ‘negligible risk’ for BSE. Another included adoption of the OIE's first global animal welfare strategy. The delegates also discussed how to combat antimicrobial resistance and improve collaboration between public and private organisations.
I believe the role of the OIE is underappreciated in the UK. It would be foolhardy to ignore the importance of international collaboration. We face international threats not only to animal health and welfare, but also to human wellbeing and environmental sustainability such as rises in consumption of animal products and the emergence of antibiotic resistance.
Addressing these threats requires international and cross-disciplinary working. I hope to have opportunities to engage more with the OIE in my career. I'm excited by the work it is doing to protect the world's animals, and, in so doing, protecting our future.