Press releases

 Back to archive

Press Release 98/05


Brussels, 17. February -- Europe may face further devastating animal disease epidemics due to long-distance transport of animals and increasingly dense livestock units, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today. In the past, nine of the fifteen major epidemic livestock diseases recorded internationally occurred in Europe.

The trend to long-distance transport of animals and animal products has accelerated in Europe, FAO said. It is now commonplace for piglet to be transported between Member States for fattening.

"In addition, the transition of the economies of Central and Eastern Europe has led to substantial growth of exports to the EU. Trade routes between Europe, the Middle East and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) are reviving and it is possible for an animal infected with Foot-and-Mouth Disease to enter into Central or even Western Europe if its owners succeed in evading border controls. Civil wars or unstable political situations, as in the Balkans and the Caucasus, lead inevitably to migrations of people and animals which increase the threat from diseases," said Yves Leforban, Senior FAO Animal Health Officer.

Furthermore, dense livestock units tend to favour the rapid spread of infections, according to FAO. In certain parts of Europe farms contain thousands of animals, kept either for breeding or fattening. The density of pig farms is extremely high in certain parts of Belgium, the Netherlands and northern Germany where there are up to 9,000 pig units per square kilometre of agricultural land. "These farms are a source of increasing environmental pollution, which should not be tolerated anymore," Leforban said.

There is a need for planning authorities to stimulate initiatives towards reducing this density. Countries such as Denmark have already taken steps in this direction and the Netherlands is examining the role of the pig industry after the devastating epidemic of Classical Swine Fever of 1997.

For the safe movement of animals, certification and identification are essential, supplemented by an effective system of checks on identity and health status of livestock at international borders, FAO said. Within the EU all livestock holdings are registered and cattle identified by ear-tag. The identification of other species, notably pigs, is difficult and this has created problems during epidemics. In other European countries identification may vary within a country.

FAO urged the European countries to set up a harmonised herd and animal identification system, adding that all European countries should also have a contingency plan in order to promptly react to an outbreak.

Veterinary services should have the means to respond immediately to an emergency. FAO warned that the "institutional coherence" of many European veterinary services is being destroyed by two forces: the drive to reduce the size of the public sector and the fragmentation of services caused by the delegation of power from national to regional level.

It is questionable whether the current practice that only the public sector bears the cost of controlling epidemics and compensating the private sector for losses incurred should be maintained. "This arrangement does little to encourage sanitary measures within the industry," according to FAO, which said a compulsory insurance scheme for livestock owners could be an alternative.

FAO has set up an information network covering the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and other countries in the region which disseminates information on veterinary biotechnology. This initiative supports countries to promptly diagnose and control diseases using the new technologies. FAO's Regional Office for Europe has developed a system of research co-operation in order to improve animal disease control.

* * * * * *

Contact John Riddle at (396) 5705-3259, or for further information.





 FAO Home page 


 Search our site