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Opening address

Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you all to FAO and to the Animal Production and Health Division for the FAO/WHO/OIE Expert and Technical Consultation on Capacity Building for Surveillance and Control of Zoonotic Diseases. A very special welcome to all the experts who have accepted the call to provide their advice to this important process which FAO has set up to gather the most up-to-date, advanced scientific guidance for its programme of work.

FAO takes the instrument of the expert and technical consultation very seriously. The advice you will be generating today and tomorrow will be taken up by the Director-General in the guidance of the FAO veterinary public health programme.

Veterinary public health aspects have long been on the agenda of the FAO animal health programme - if we think of the many activities on brucellosis, echinococcosis, trichinellosis and tuberculosis control that have been and are being carried out in many member countries.

Six years ago, however, we decided to give to these activities a more distinct platform for their further development and coordination as well as for their programmatic profile-building. This was done by creating a separate regular programme entity termed "Veterinary Public Health and Feed and Food Safety"; and we have supported the creation of a division-wide interdisciplinary task force on VPH that is very actively pursuing the entity's agenda. The VPH definition agreed in the 1999 joint FAO/WHO expert committee meeting is the relevant basis for the work of the task force; this definition reads: "Veterinary Public Health is the sum of all contributions to the physical, mental and social well-being of humans through understanding and application of veterinary science".

The task force acts on its programme of work using an interdisciplinary and intersectoral approach, as is unanimously recommended by the expert papers submitted to this consultation. I need not dwell on this fundamental requirement, which is certainly not disputed by anyone involved in VPH matters anywhere in the world.

Veterinary public health is an international public good of paramount and increasing importance and FAO is not only well placed, but also firmly committed to strengthening this public good in collaboration with others such as with the World Health Organization, particularly but not only in the context of the Codex Alimentarius, and with the Office International des Epizooties, the OIE, in the SPS context and in collaboration with national and regional specialist organizations.

To illustrate the importance of VPH incidences and thereby underscore the need for mitigating action, I could quote the example of the impact of the BSE crisis in the European Union. In a recent study prepared on this by a working group under the leadership of Patrick Cunningham and published by the European Association for Animal Production, the annual loss to the European livestock sector as a result of the BSE crisis is estimated at 2.75 billion US$; much of this impact is there to stay long-term as a considerable proportion of the by-products used productively before the crisis, such as specified risk materials and meat-and-bone meal, have now become a considerable cost for industry and society. Cysticercosis, Nipah, salmonellosis, E. coli, rabies, Rift Valley fever, SARS, and lately avian influenza might be other suitable examples to bring home to all concerned that very serious risks are at hand.

In its VPH programme, FAO pays particular attention to animal-health-related problems and issues as they impact the human population in developing countries. This involves attention to the risks at the level of both production and consumption of food of animal origin, including risks stemming from zoonoses, related to occupational diseases and to environmental health as affected by the health condition of farm animals.

The spectrum of important veterinary public health issues is very large and careful priority-setting is required for most effective and efficient use of scarce available resources. A contribution of this expert consultation to the way in which such priority-setting might take place is expected.

In many circumstances, and not only in developing countries, the raising of awareness of communities to veterinary public health risks and of ways by which to diagnose, manage and mitigate them more effectively is key for the success of VPH programmes. This expert consultation addresses Capacity Building for Surveillance and Control of Zoonotic Diseases. If veterinary services and veterinarians in particular have to play their role in managing VPH risks, the early and correct diagnosis of zoonotic diseases is obviously of paramount importance. I am very pleased to note that significant inputs on this are available through the expert contributions to this consultation. I am therefore very confident that there will be strong and detailed advice resulting from your discussions - advice on the contents and operations, both medium and longer term, of the FAO Veterinary Public Health Programme. I would again like to thank you for your time and effort in this process.

It is a great pleasure for FAO to host this meeting with the participation of all of you and with the collaboration of colleagues from OIE and WHO and from associated collaborating centres.

I wish you a very productive session and I am confident that all arrangements are in place to make your work as effective as possible.

Samuel Jutzi
FAO Animal Production and Health Division

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