Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

III. Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and
Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) and Agreement
on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT)



Introduction to the Office International des Epizooties (OIE)

V. Welte
Animal Production and Health Division



To explain the principles, functions and structure of the Office International des Epizooties (OIE). The structure of the OIE, the Central Bureau, the OIE International Committee, the specialist commissions and their importance in disease information dissemination and in establishing international standards are reviewed.


6.1 Introduction

6.2 Organizational structure

6.3 OIE members commitments - if the country is a member of OIE but not a member of WTO

6.4 OIE members commitments - if the country is a member of both the OIE and WTO

6.5 OIE functions

6.6 Informs governments of occurrence and status of animal diseases and ways to control them

6.7 Coordinates and promotes research on animal disease control and surveillance

6.8 Maintains working relations with international organizations

6.9 Harmonizes regulations for trade in animals and animal products among OIE member countries

6.10 Other important international standards



The OIE is an intergovernmental organization of 152 Member Countries. With two or three exceptions, the officials representing their government during the OIE General Session of the International Committee are veterinarians. In all cases, the representatives are required by OIE to be technically competent so that they can actively participate in the decisions and discussions.


The OIE operates under the authority and control of an International Committee formed by permanent Delegates designated by the Governments of the Member Countries. Each member country has one vote.

Box 1: OIE Organizational Structure


Administrative Commission

Central Bureau

Director General
Administrative and Financial Department
Information and International Trade Department
Publications Department
Scientific and Technical Department

Regional Commissions
Asia, the Far East and Oceania

Middle East
Specialist Commissions
Fish Diseases
Foot and Mouth Disease and Other Epizootics
International Animal Health Code Standards
Collaborating Centers Regional Coordination
Asia and the Pacific
Eastern Europe
Middle East
Reference Laboratories Working Groups
Informatics and Epidemiology
Veterinary Drug Registration
Wildlife Diseases


The activities of the organization are conducted by a Central Bureau, headed by a Director General who is appointed by the International Committee. The Central Bureau implements the resolutions of the Committee drawn up with support from Commissions elected by the International Committees:

The Central Bureau of the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) is located at the following address:

12, rue de Prony -  75017 Paris, France.
Tel: 33 - (0)1
Fax: 33 - (0)1
E-mail: [email protected]

6.2.1 Administrative Commission

The Administrative Commission is composed of the President of the International Committee, the Vice President, the Past President and six Delegates who are elected (with the exception of the former President) for a three-year term. The Commission represents the Committee during the interval between General Sessions.

The Commission meets twice a year in Paris to examine technical and administrative matters and, in particular, the working programme and the proposed budget to be presented to the International Committee.

6.2.2 Regional Commissions

Much OIE work is undertaken by specialist bodies

Five Regional Commissions have been formed to promote cooperation and to study specific problems encountered by Veterinary Services and to organize cooperation activities on a regional level. Elections were held in May 1997 for the Bureaux of the Regional Commissions (President, Vice-President and Secretary General) for a three-year term:

Each Commission organizes a conference, usually once every two years, in one of the countries of the region. These conferences are devoted to technical items and to regional cooperation for the control of animal diseases.

Regional programmes may be developed to reinforce surveillance and control of major diseases, especially for regions in which the OIE maintains a Regional Representation.

Regional Commissions report on their activities and submit recommendations to the Committee.

6.2.3 Regional Representations and South-East Asia Foot and Mouth Disease Campaign

The OIE maintains Representations in the following regions: Asia and the Pacific, Eastern Europe, the Americas and the Middle East (the process of establishing a Representation in Africa has begun). The goal of these representations is to provide regionally adapted services to Member Countries so that they may strengthen the surveillance and control of animal diseases in the region. A unit has been established in Bangkok to coordinate a South East Asian FMD campaign which aims at controlling Foot and Mouth Disease in South East Asia.

6.2.4 Specialist Commissions

The role of the Specialist Commissions is to study problems of epidemiology and control of animal diseases, and issues related to the harmonization of international regulations. The decision to create a Specialist Commission is made by the International Committee when necessary and for the time required to solve a specific problem.

The Foot and Mouth Disease and other Epizootics Commission assists in identifying the most appropriate strategies and measures for disease prevention and control. The Commission convenes groups of experts, particularly in emergencies (e.g. foot and mouth disease, African horse sickness, bovine spongiform encephalopathy).

The Standards Commission establishes standards for methods of diagnosing diseases of animals and for testing biological products, such as vaccines, used for control purposes.

The Fish Diseases Commission compiles information on diseases of fish, crustaceans and molluscs and on methods of control of these diseases. The Commission harmonizes rules governing trade in aquaculture products, as well as the control of products for diagnosis or prophylaxis. Regular scientific meetings on these topics are organized by the Commission.

The International Animal Health Code Commission deals with regulatory rather than scientific matters.

6.2.5 Working Groups

Four groups are currently operating:

These Working Groups meet to review progress made in their field, and to take steps to ensure that OIE Member Countries benefit rapidly from this progress.

Worldwide surveys are undertaken and the results published. The groups also organize scientific meetings, seminars, workshops and training courses.

6.2.6 References Laboratories and Collaborating Centres

The role of the Reference Laboratories and Collaborating Centres is to provide Member Countries of the OIE with scientific and technical assistance and expert advice on topics linked to disease surveillance and control.

This support can take various forms which include: making experts available, preparation and supply of diagnostic kits or reference reagents, practical work, training courses, workshops and organization of scientific meetings.


OIE objectives enforced on an honour system

The OIE is not an enforcement body. It relies on an honour system of conduct by the official authorities responsible for the animal health certification of LLP1 for trade. The respect of OIE Codes and principles is based on voluntary compliance by its Members.

When a nation becomes an OIE member, it makes a commitment to other OIE Members:


OIE standards given a stronger legal basis for WTO Members in the SPS Agreement

The items mentioned in Section 6.3 are the most relevant OIE Member commitments. However, when a nation is a member of both the OIE and the WTO, it should comply with all WTO agreements, including the SPS Agreement.

Since the OIE is the principal WTO/SPS2 Agreement's technical reference body for animal health conditions associated with the trade of LLP, some of the Standards and Codes developed by the OIE will become binding to the WTO Members. For example, if the exporting country complies with the OIE Codes, a WTO member does not have the right to prohibit the importation of LLP from another WTO member based on insufficient animal health safeguards. The only exceptions are when the importing country demonstrates scientifically the necessity to require animal health conditions beyond and above the OIE conditions or if the exporting country does not meet the level of protection deemed appropriate by the importing country.

In accordance to the WTO/SPS Agreement, the dual OIE/WTO Members are bound to respect OIE animal health standards when trading LLP.


The OIE:

The OIE official functions and publications are generally conducted in the three OIE official languages: French, English and Spanish, with some documents provided also in Russian.


The primary objective of the OIE remains to inform governmental veterinary services of the occurrence and course of epizootics that could endanger animal or human health. The urgency of dispatching information varies according to the classification of the disease (List A3 and B4 diseases). The OIE maintains also a List C at the request of the FAO.

Communicat-ing disease information is the OIE's primary function

The OIE has established a system of reporting disease information and disease control methods. This is so that Member Countries that could be affected by the changes in the World Animal Health Status could act rapidly to prevent the dissemination of animal diseases.

Upon reception from member countries of occurrence of List A diseases, newly emerging infectious disease or any disease considered of exceptional epidemiological significance to other countries, the Central Bureau immediately transmits the information to OIE Member Countries:

A country is at risk when it is known to import from the affected country some commodities that may carry the disease agent. A country may also be at risk when it is geographically located closed to the affected country, when the country is known to have the disease vector, etc.

For new outbreaks of "any other disease which may have serious repercussions on public health or on the economy of animal production", the Code is less clear. How can we uniformly define such "disease"? A recent example of a disease that warrants a fast reporting track is Morbilivirus infection in Equines (Hendra virus) which occurred in Australia.

Countries are also informed:

It is important to note that the OIE reporting system is based on the data received by OIE from the official veterinary services of Member countries. OIE does not have the mandate nor the administrative capacity to verify if the information provided by its Members is complete, accurate and factual. OIE might occasionally ask a country for confirmation of data that it had obtained from non-official sources, but the country has no obligation to reply to OIE. Reporting to OIE is voluntary.

If a country provides data that is not consistent with its previous official reports or the data contains obvious mistakes, OIE might ask that country to make corrections.


These OIE tasks are done through the work conducted by the Specialist Commissions and Working Groups. The Collaborating Centers and Reference Laboratories also give their support. The OIE also organizes meetings and publishes scientific information in the OIE quarterly publication Scientific and Technical Review.

Communicat-ing results of disease research

The OIE site contains epidemiological information on several diseases. The information on list A diseases is extensive and may be seen at

If we take List A's foot and mouth disease (FMD) as an example, one can find information on its incubation period, on the classification of the causative agent, on the resistance to physical and chemical action of the causative agent, on the clinical diagnosis of its various forms, on lesions, on differential diagnosis, on laboratory diagnosis, on its prevention and control, on reference laboratories, on experts, and the references to Foot and Mouth Disease in various OIE publications.

The alphabetical list of diseases that are covered on the OIE site can be found at: 



The OIE maintains working relations with Intergovernmental Organizations such as the:

and other International Organizations such as:

that have observer seats at the General Session of the OIE International Committee.

In addition, the OIE fosters synergy with the major organizations through formal agreements. Informally, there is continuing bilateral consultations and exchanges of expertise in various projects and meetings of common interest.


This OIE function is accomplished through the publication of the International Animal Health Code, the Manual of Standards for Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines for land animals and the equivalent documents for water animals. The International Animal Health Code and the International Aquatic Animal Health Code are all available on-line on the OIE Web site. The Manual for Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines will be available soon.

6.9.1 OIE International Animal Health Code

The Code defines the animal health standards that all WTO Members have to comply with when trading LLP. Therefore, the International Animal Health Code is one of the most important reference documents for officials of WTO Members. The SPS agreement stipulates that an importing country has the right to ask for standards over and above the minimum standards only if the additional requirements are scientifically justified. The use of harmonized standards facilitates trade whilst minimizing the risk of spreading diseases through the movement of LLP.

The OIE is aware of the importance of the Code as a reference document for trade. Starting in 1998, it publishes every year a revised hardcopy edition of the Code, including all modifications decided by the OIE International Committee. The Code can also be seen in the OIE Web site.

Code is updated by a six-member Commission

The International Animal Health Code Commission is responsible for updating the Code. The Commission has six members. The pace of updating increases every year so that it can keep up with the advances and changes in applied sciences as well as in animal husbandry practices. The Commission is helped by experts and specialists in the fields covered by the Code. The draft versions are systematically reviewed by Member Countries before they are presented for adoption at the yearly General Session of the International Committee in May. The tasks of the Commission are considerable, especially when one realizes that this work is mainly done by high level government officials already burdened by heavy responsibilities by their respective governments. The time frame allotted for the review of numerous documents and the final drafting of the updates is short.

It is important to note that any OIE Member country can request the International Committee to consider the review of any standard in the Code.

6.9.2 Significance of the Code to developing countries and countries in transition

The OIE is the WTO technical reference body for animal health conditions. Consequently, the OIE Code should be used by WTO trade partners as the standards. If a developing country does not agree with those standards and/or finds itself incapable of importing or exporting LLP based on those standards it can:

1. Ask the SPS Committee to consider granting the country an exemption from having to comply with OIE standards as per the WTO agreement under the special treatment to developing countries. If the developing country special waiver has expired, the developing country can ask for an extension of the waiver. But such a decision can only be exceptional.

2. Use the SPS and the OIE General Session Meetings to express its position regarding the standards and to encourage other countries to support that position.

3. Ask its trade partner to provide the country with technical assistance or other form of support. This help should contribute to enable the developing country to conduct a risk analysis, to enhance its veterinary administration and laboratory infrastructure as well as the national animal disease reporting and surveillance system. This can be done as per Article 9 of the SPS Agreement.

Additional obligations for WTO Members

It is important to note that although the Code "recommends rather than commands", the fact that a country is a WTO Member means that, more often than not, that country is bound to take into consideration the OIE Code.

For example, the Code recommends to the importing countries that animal health conditions associated with List B diseases should be used as the basis for import restrictions as little as possible. If the country is a WTO Member, it is obliged to treat imported goods in the same way as its domestic goods (WTO rule of national treatment). In this case, it means that the country cannot exclude products based on or associated with any diseases except:

6.9.3 The content of the International Animal Health Code

The 1998 edition of the Code can be seen at

The Code assists government officials in the preparation of animal health conditions on import permits and export certificates for the trade of LLP. As we have seen previously, in accordance with the SPS Agreement, the Code represents the agreed standards. If additional health requirements are desirable, the country imposing them is obligated under WTO to scientifically justify them.

The early part of the Code contains a guide to facilitate the use of the Code by officials who have to decide on the animal health conditions associated with the trade of LLP. Section 3 of the Code describes the legal, ethical and moral obligations of the LLP certifying body.

The Code contains definitions and lists of List A and List B diseases as well as the definitions of the most commonly used terms when designing an import permit or an export certificate. The Code also contains models of International Animal Health Certificates that can be used for the import and export of LLP.

Under each of the OIE notifiable disease categories (Lists A & B), the Code defines the criteria for a country:

In the chapter relevant to each disease, the Code also specifies which are the animal health conditions that an importing country should require from an exporting country in order to avoid the transmission of animal diseases through trade of LLP.

The potential for a commodity to carry the disease agent and to transmit the disease to susceptible species in the importing country is the determining factor for the elaboration of animal health conditions. Therefore, the conditions will vary according to the nature of the commodity. For example, semen has generally more potential to carry a disease agent and infect the female that receives the semen (and subsequently her embryo) as compared with an embryo.

It is important to note that the Code focuses on commercially traded commodities. For example, under Newcastle disease, the standards for a country to declare itself free of Newcastle varies depending whether Newcastle occurs in wild birds or in domesticated species.

When animal health conditions include diagnosis tests, the tests recommended by OIE are described in the chapter of each relevant disease in the Manual of Standards for Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines. Appendix 4.1 in the Code gives a summary table of the recommended tests.

Since regionalisation and risk assessment are particularly important concepts for the trade of LLP in a WTO environment, they are discussed separately.


6.10.1 Manual of Standards for Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines

The Manual is prepared by the Standards Commission. It describes the standards for the laboratory diagnosis of all diseases covered by the OIE. The Manual also contains the protocols for the production and the control of biologics for veterinary use. Biologics are defined in the OIE Code as:

The standards for laboratory diagnosis are useful in trade, as a country is required to use those standards, or equivalent, in their disease control and surveillance as well as in their import/export programmes.

Where appropriate, a preamble to a chapter in the Code refers to the relevant section of the Manual. Any proposed correction is approved by the General Committee before any change is made in the Manual.

The OIE has been updating the manual every four years, but updates are adopted every year with regard to prescribed and alternative tests.

6.10.2 OIE International Aquatic Animal Health Code and the Diagnostic Manual for Aquatic Animal Diseases Fish, Crustaceans and Molluscs

These two documents are specifically written for aquatic animals. This is because the epidemiology of diseases and the methods of disease control in land animals are of little or no application in an aquatic environment. Therefore, a separate Code and a separate Manual were prepared for aquatic animals.

The officials dealing with the trade of fish, molluscs and crustaceans will find those manuals useful.

OIE is a standard-setting body for fish, crustaceans and molluscs. This has an impact on the trade of fish, crustaceans and molluscs with countries that have administrations influenced by Great Britain. In countries such as New Zealand, Australia, United States and Canada, the veterinary profession was generally not involved in the regulation of aquatic animals destined for human food. This is unlike the majority of European countries where administrations give to the veterinary profession the primary role for aquatic animal regulation.

Need for a multi-disciplinary approach

Veterinary administrations have recently evolved to integrate the regulatory aspect of the food production and inspection of aquatic animals and land animals. This is in line with the global trend to adopt a multi-disciplinary approach to food safety. This applies not only to aquatic and land animals, but also to plant species, whether domesticated and not.

The key message of the present heading is the need for a multi-disciplinary and universal approach in the definition of SPS standards.


1 Livestock and Livestock Products.

2 Sanitary and Phytosanitary.

3 List A diseases are those transmissible diseases which have the potential for very serious and rapid spread, irrespective of national borders, which are of serious socio-economic or public health consequence and which are of major importance in the international trade of animals and animal products. If any of these diseases occur in a member country of OIE, disease reports are submitted to the OIE as often as necessary to comply with Articles and Diseases in List A are set out in Section 6.1 of the OIE International Animal Health Code.

4 List B diseases are those transmissible diseases which are considered to be of socio-economic and/or public health importance within countries and which are significant in the international trade of animals and animal products. Reports are normally submitted once a year, although more frequent reporting may in some cases be necessary to comply with Articles and Diseases in List B are set out in Section 6.2 of the Code.

Previous PageTop Of PageNext Page