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News & features archive, 2010

Veterinary legislation in the 21st Century

Avian Influenza and emerging animal disease control could benefit
16 December 2010 - News reporting through media outlets reminds global audiences, almost on a minute-by-minute basis, of the spectacular array of threats and hazards faced by modern societies in the twenty-first century. These include ongoing climatic changes, international terrorism, religious radicalism, territorial contestations, nuclear proliferation, recurrent natural disasters, and emerging infectious diseases, among many others.

Here, we briefly address veterinary legislation of nation-states in the context of classical livestock disease outbreaks, but also of the rising emergence and reemergence of detrimental infectious diseases at the points of convergence between animals (domestic and wildlife), humans and natural ecosystems.

First, it is important to highlight that legislations are borne from the need to count with a system of binding rules, which have been enacted and promulgated by a pertinent governing body, and that are usually enforced by institutions. Just like states have constitutional, criminal, international and property laws, there are also laws for veterinary matters. In this sense, veterinary legislations of nation-states form part of a growing body of national laws that provide guidance on rights and responsibilities in various ways, circumstances and settings. For example, in the United Kingdom, the Veterinary Surgeons Act exists since 1881.

Second, in the presence of a legal framework, a national agency tasked with delivery of animal health or veterinary services can dutifully perform its core and peripheral functions. The breadth and depth of these activities spans from monitoring, detecting, reporting, managing and controlling outbreaks of diseases of animal origin to inspecting animal production systems before certifying live and processed animal products for export, overseeing food safety and quality, and administering animal welfare practices.

Third, the preeminence of globalized trade, open international markets and affordable international air transport serve as powerful incentives to nation-states and regional economic communities (e.g. COMESA, ECOWAS, IGAD, SADC, SAARC, among others bodies) to start making the necessary amendments and changes to their current veterinary rules and regulations as well as numerous capital and human investments needed to successful participate in the world economy. A careful drafting of veterinary laws—while at the same time harmonizing them with international standards and guidelines—can aid private and public sector actors to comply with ever increasing sets of regulatory measures that are required to successfully engage in extraterritorial or transboundary commerce. Also, it is strategically opportune for evolving veterinary legislations to incorporate the  standardized reporting requirements to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) on significant epidemiological events, along with international treaty details of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on the agreement on the application of sanitary and phytosanitary measures, as well as compliance with international agreements such as the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and Codex Alimentarius, to name a few.

Fourth, adequate governance in agriculture-based economies with significant contributions from livestock to agricultural GDP are constructively and positively supported by national veterinary legislations that are coherent, comprehensive, forward-looking, robust and adaptive to the changing realities of the modern world. Its impact is not exclusive to securing food, alleviating hunger and reducing poverty but also pertinent to promoting domestic and international animal trade that is pivotal to sustainable economic development.

Lastly, the veterinary profession is strategically poised to play leading roles in mitigation of novel threats. However, there is an urgent need for clear national legislation defining what veterinary practitioners and veterinary para-professionals are, as well as providing legal basis to (a) veterinary boards and other statutory bodies, and (b) the delegation of functions into private veterinarians. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) provides assistance to revise and strengthen their legal frameworks in all the above areas.

FAO’s Animal Production and Health Division (AGA), in collaboration with the Development Law Service of the Legal Office, will continue to assist Member Countries wishing to take full advantage of the rapidly growing and transforming livestock sector.