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A future scope for One Health regulation


The One Health approach recognizes the interface between human, animal and environmental health, and the urgent need to address these issues in a holistic manner. By developing knowledge and foresight on emerging threats to health and their consequences, as well as on resilience to disease and health improvement, the intrinsic value of this approach is being increasingly recognized as a multi-faceted lens through which to achieve sustainable agricultural production and global health. With an overly broad mandate that covers the gamut of food and agriculture-related activities, FAO has a strong comparative advantage in addressing One Health by paying attention not only to zoonosis, but also to areas such as the interface between sustainable agriculture production practices and the reduction of pesticides, plastics and other pollutants, their impact on soil health and fertility, climate change, biodiversity or nutrition, to name a few.
In order to develop legal solutions to implement the One Health approach, it is important to identify the legal principles and institutional dynamics that are relevant to One Health across different sectors, as well as their synergies and differences. This raises a number of regulatory challenges both at the national and international levels.  
At the international level, the One Health High Level Experts (OHHLEP) mechanism was launched by FAO, the World Animal Health Organization (OIE), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to improve understanding of how diseases, with the potential to trigger pandemics, emerge and spread. The 26 experts, who will meet at least three times a year, will be responsible for providing advice to the four organizations. In order to better understand the impact of food systems and environmental factors on zoonotic diseases, the Experts’ will examine the links between human, animal and ecosystem health. The Panel may provide advice for the development of a Global Plan of Action on One Health, which could provide a first step towards a global regulatory response to One Health from an international law perspective. As FAO Director General Qu mentioned in the first meeting of the OHHLEP, “(e)xpectations for collective action and the need for effective collaboration have never been higher”.
At the national level, the myriad of areas related to One Health are usually regulated through sector-specific legislation, often developed without appropriate consideration of the synergies or interactions between the sectors and based on different legal principles. A case in point is the contrast between health-related legislation, based on the principle of scientific justification, and environmental legislation which is based on the precautionary principle. Another challenge is achieving proper coordination amongst sectoral institutions in terms of mandates and regulatory objectives relevant to One Health (human and animal health and wellbeing, environmental protection). This may require a change in paradigm in the development of food and agriculture legislation.   
Lessons may be drawn by looking at collaboration results and legal research in the areas of AMR and Sustainable Wildlife Management (SWM).  Both areas are directly relevant to the One Health approach and the regulatory techniques and approaches used to address them could serve as inspiration for One Health governance at the international and national levels.  
The evolution of international guidance and global governance on AMR, the quintessential One Health topic, is witnessing the establishment of a One Health Global Leadership Group on Antimicrobial Resistance. This body functions as an Independent Panel on Evidence for Action against Antimicrobial Resistance as well as a multi-stakeholder platform1 and its establishment follows recommendations of the Interagency Coordination Group (IACG)2 on AMR, the Tripartite (FAO, OIE and WHO) and UNEP. In 2015, a Global Action Plan (GAP AMR) was approved as the basis of coordinated international support3. More recently, the IACG recommended that countries develop a Global Development and Stewardship Framework to combat AMR.  It also prompted Members to consider the need for new international instruments4.  These developments provide useful examples of (a) a participatory governance structure involving the policy, scientific and stakeholder worlds, and (b) the idea of developing an international soft law instrument to lay down principles for harmonized action, which could be replicated elsewhere.  
At the national level, the GAP AMR recommended that countries develop a National Action Plan5 to provide national resource bases and to establish “multi-sectoral coalitions” to address AMR in national governance6. To support the development of national regulation, LEGN is working in close collaboration with the OIE and WHO, with inputs from UNEP, on the development of a One Health Tool to assess AMR-relevant legislation. This Tool adopts a One Health approach to identify the legal areas and the elements across those areas that are relevant for AMR. The methodology and regulatory solutions resulting from this work could serve as basis for the development of regulatory solutions that could be applied to all sectors and objectives relevant to One Health.  

In addition, as part of its work within the Sustainable Wildlife Management Programme (SWM), LEGN has led, along with SWM Programme’s partners, the development of a SWM Legal Hub7 that provides country-specific, cross-sectoral analysis of legal instruments relating to multiple agri-food systems. The platform is organized around topics relevant for One Health that range from land and wildlife tenure to wildlife consumptive and non-consumptive use, from animal production and health to food safety. The platform allows users to compare national legislation across sectors and highlight any disconnects or synergies. Moreover, the recently issued white paper “Build Back Better in a post-COVID-19 world: Reducing future wildlife-borne spillover of disease to humans”, co-authored by LEGN, has identified a series of options to prevent, detect and respond to any upcoming disease outbreaks, in line with the One Health Approach, where the work on the regulatory framework represents a recurring theme.
The One Health interface, i.e. the relationship between human and animal health and the environment, can therefore be used to identify innovative approaches for legal development in many other areas relevant to FAO, such as the ecosystem approach to fisheries, climate change legislation or, more broadly, any regulatory initiatives to improve food security and nutrition, thereby supporting the transformation of agri-food systems.  

The above activities have certainly contributed to gaining a better understanding of the issues and challenges of implementing the One Health approach through legislation.  However, there are still many issues that require further research and analysis.

  • Firstly, the Covid-19 pandemic has clearly highlighted the relevance of a One Health approach.  However, the global response to the pandemic has revealed its fundamentally anthropocentric perspective. In other words, whilst the connection between animal and environmental health and the emergence of zoonotic disease is clear, human health remains the focus of policy attention in addressing the pandemic. In this regard, the issue is whether applying a One Health approach may lend weight to the legal proposition that the natural environment deserves intrinsic protection as a global public good in its own right, independent of its impacts on human health.  
  • A second question is how would potential conflicts between different human rights be balanced within a One Health perspective.  We know that the right to health and to be free from disease are fully recognized, but how will the right to protection of human dignity, the right to food, the right to practice one's culture or the rights of vulnerable populations also be given prominence at the same time?
  • Thirdly, the question is how can national legislation regulate all the different sectors relevant for One Health in such a manner that acknowledges the synergies and the legal principles behind each one?  Also, what is the socioeconomic impact that this new approach will have on local populations?  

To address these questions, it will be fundamental to fully integrate the policy and legal dimension into the One Health Approach in a fully multidisciplinary manner, i.e., not only in scope, but also in its structure and implementation. The legal research work must be fully integrated into the technical sphere and consider scientific findings and data.  This should ensure that the One Health approach effectively paves the way towards sustainable food and agriculture systems leading to better environment, better nutrition, better production and better life for all.  

Carmen Bullon and Eugenio Sartoretto