The Development Law Service

Legislation as a tool to implement the quadripartite One Health Joint Plan of Action


The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH, formerly OIE) have worked together for decades to address risks at the human–animal–environment interface. Since the adoption of the Manhattan principles in 2004 and the Berlin principles in 2019, the approach used has become known as “One Health”. In March 2022, UN Environment Programme formally joined this collaboration, signing a Memorandum of Understanding on One Health and AMR[1]. As part of this collaboration, the now Quadripartite recently published a One Health Joint Plan of Action (OH JPA) (2022-2026)[2] that sets up the basis for the collaboration during this period.

Legislation has a preeminent role in the OH JPA. Policy, legislation, enabling regulatory frameworks and the institutionalization of inter-sectoral governance are recognized as the first of the three proposed pathways to drive change and facilitate One Health implementation. Legislation is also mentioned in the six action tracks and several activities of the document. Each action track must be implemented considering the principles of stakeholder participation and attention to vulnerable populations, including gender. This article identifies the references to legislation in the OH JPA with a view to understanding the role of law in the implementation of the One Health approach.

Action track 1 of the OH JPA focuses on “the effective implementation of multi-sectoral approaches to promote the health of humans, animals, plants and ecosystems (…)”. Activity 1.1.1. is to “develop mechanisms to support an overarching One Health governance and legal framework” and proposes, as a main deliverable, “the identification of policy and legislative instruments relevant to One Health, including sector-specific and crosscutting legislation relevant to this JPA and its action tracks”. While this first activity seems to address the relevance of legislation for OH at the global level, activity 1.1.3. is more specific because it reads: “define planning mechanisms for One Health coordination, including collaborative governance mechanisms, policies and legal frameworks (…).

Legislation is also present in action track 2, with activities aimed at supporting countries to implement “enabling, evidence-based and gender-sensitive regulatory frameworks for the prevention and control of zoonotic epidemics/pandemics along value chains, including livestock and wildlife”(activity 2.2.7.) and to “[s]upport countries in conducting analysis of legislation relevant for each sector to identify potential gaps and issues that need to be addressed to reduce the emergence and spillover of diseases” (activity 2.2.8.). The latter activity indicates the need for effective legislative tools identifying areas relevant to OH. Action track 2.3. calls for an appropriate legal framework to support integrated surveillance systems, with activities, aimed to “develop operational tools and resources to conduct targeted One Health surveillance (…) supported by robust regulatory frameworks” (2.3.1.) and to “develop country capacity for managing biohazards according to applicable international standards and legal frameworks” (2.3.3.).

Action track 3 focuses on zoonotic, neglected and vector-borne diseases and refers to the importance of “galvaniz[ing] international collaboration to support One Health policies and legislation for zoonotic, neglected endemic and vector-borne diseases”. The importance of legislation for food safety systems is also recognized in action track 4 which includes an activity to “[s]upport countries in strengthening legislation and programmes for foodborne disease monitoring and surveillance”(activity 4.1.3.). In relation to action track 5 (AMR), activity 5.1. aims to “[s]trengthen the capacity and knowledge of countries to prioritize and implement context-specific collaborative One Health work to control AMR in policy, legislation and practice”, with the One Health Legislative tool as a main deliverable in activity 5.1.2.

Finally, there are several references to legislation in action track 6, including activities 6.1.3. “promote the transition towards sustainable, climate-smart, agro-ecological approaches to sustainable agriculture, aquaculture, livestock production and non-timber forest products, including through regulation, to reduce risks to the health of the environment, animals, plants and people”; 6.1.5. “Support the development and adoption of policies and legislation to protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to sustainably use and trade in natural resources” and 6.1.6. “Support the development of legal, sustainable, resilient and inclusive wildlife-based economies while managing the risks of unregulated and illegal wildlife farming and trade”.

There is much more in action track 6 that will directly require or benefit from legislation for implementation, such as the development of “joint guidelines for the environmentally sound management of public health, medical and veterinary operations and their waste” (activity 6.1.9.), or to “promote, inform and support the sound management of chemicals and waste” (activity 6.1.10.). Actions 6.2. and 6.3. recognize the relevance of legislation for the environment in a more cross-cutting manner, namely in activities 6.2.5. “Support the review, update and implementation of relevant national plans, policies, legislation and programmes to integrate all dimensions of One Health, including those on biodiversity, the environment and climate change” and 6.3.6. “Translate environmental knowledge and data to improve policies and legislation”.

The OH JPA can be understood as a call to the legal departments of the Quadripartite organizations to strengthen their collaboration related to One Health, aiming at the identification and development of legal solutions to implement a One Health approach. Following the four principles of the OH JPA, these solutions must be based on stakeholders’ participation, human rights and pro-poor approaches. Attention must be paid to the various objectives of the JPA, with a focus on mainstreaming legal solutions that are at the same time multi-sectoral and respectful of the autonomy of each regulatory area, preventing legal fragmentation and ensuring solid regulatory responses. To date, legal responses have focused on individual sector-based approaches and legal scholars have adopted a discreet distance from the concept of One Health and its legal characterization. Legal assessment tools and analytical programmes for individual sectors have been developed, such as the Montevideo Programme, the WOAH Veterinary Legislation Support Programme. A Legal Preparedness Action Package of the Global Health Security Agenda is under development.

Arguably, the One Health (integrated) approach is at the basis of the Quadripartite One Health Legislative Assessment tool for AMR (under development), the FAO Methodology to analyze AMR-relevant legislation in the food and agriculture sectors or the FAO Sustainable Wildlife Management Legal Hub. With a focus on AMR, the One Health Legislative Assessment Tool will include a chapter on multi-sectoral regulatory solutions that provide elements for establishing multi-sectoral governance mechanisms and other integrated legal solutions, such as institutional responses to integrated surveillance. However, these specific legal solutions and references across sectors are not, by themselves, sufficient to ensure One Health mainstreaming across different areas.

Going forward, the legal departments of the Quadripartite will be called upon to develop a common understanding and definition of ‘One Health’ from a legal perspective, considering its legal nature, foundational principles, and the elements that could serve to implement such an approach in practice. Developing One Health principles would require finding a balance between principles that may seem in conflict, such as the health-related principle of technical justification and the environmental precautionary principle. Once these elements are identified, it would be necessary to define potential legal avenues to mainstream the One Health approach across areas without creating legal fragmentation. Introducing One Health as a principle, or One Health-related principles across areas could work, but an optimal solution should be easy to implement and not require an extensive revision of the existing regulatory framework.

                                                                                                                                                                 Carmen Bullon (FAO)

[1] See  And

[2] FAO, UNEP, WHO, and WOAH. 2022. One Health Joint Plan of Action (2022–2026). Working together for the health of humans, animals, plants and the environment. Rome.

[3] See, for instance, Hinchliffe, Steve (Social Sciences Med. 2015); Chien, Y.-J. (2012). "How did international agencies perceive the avian influenza problem? The adoption and manufacture of the 'One World, One Health' framework." Sociology of Health and Illness 35(2): 213-226.