Dr Bernard Vallat, Director General of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), addressed the European Parliament in Brussels earlier this month in an exchange of views with the Parliamentary Members of the Commission for Agriculture and Rural Development. The presentation and discussion offered the opportunity to tackle several subjects of major importance for the definition of animal production policies in the future.

Dr. Vallat, who will be leaving his position as OIE Director General at the end of December 2015, after 15 years in the post, started his meeting with the Members of Parliament by giving a detailed presentation on the missions of the Organization and its priority activities.

The international context of a growing world population and a continued increase in the demand for animal protein, for example, from milk, eggs and meat, was highlighted. Dr. Vallat also outlined the evolution of global animal health risks.

“The world of animal production today is seriously affected by the health risks associated with the globalization of trade in animals and their products as well as by the effects of climate change, which favour disease vectors,” says Dr. Vallat, calling on the parliamentarians to support animal health programs not only at the national and regional levels but also throughout the world. “Today, we estimate that nearly a billion of the rural poor depend on the ownership of animals to survive”, he said. “Protecting the animal capital of the poor must, therefore, become part of poverty reduction policies in developing countries because owning livestock is often a key stage in escaping poverty.”

His speech also focused on an important development: the danger of recent controversies over the effect that relationships between humans and animals have on the planet. “Whether it is the effect of animal production on climate change or the [alleged] carcinogenic potential of meat products, we must approach these extremely complex issues with the strictest scientific rigour and not allow emotion or belief systems to colour our interpretation of the facts,” Dr. Vallat reminded his audience. “Nor should the numerous contradictory data being published lead us to underestimate the positive aspects of animal production for humanity worldwide, in terms of nutrition and poverty reduction. In addition, a third of the planet can only be exploited by ruminants, which turn natural herbaceous resources into products of high nutritional value. Abandoning these territories would lead to extremely worrying situations, both in terms of environmental and territorial security issues.”

Following the presentation there was a productive question-and-answer session with the members of the Parliamentary Authority, whose influence on the agricultural policies of the European Community is decisive.

The issue of animal welfare was the subject of much debate. Speakers brought up Europe’s very advanced position on animal welfare requirements, as well as the potential distortion in competition caused by the production costs in third countries.  On this subject, Dr. Vallat made an announcement about an OIE Global Conference to be held in Mexico in December 2016, during which a global strategy on animal welfare will be discussed for adoption by the 180 member countries of the organization, if possible. “Today, we are witnessing a strong rise in public concern for animal welfare,” Dr. Vallat explained, “not only in Western countries but also in developing countries which, in the space of 10 years, have considerably raised their standards in this matter, largely thanks to the activities of the OIE.”

The importance of maintaining a tight geographical veterinary network was also pointed out; one based on highly trained and ethical professionals, ensured by the statutory veterinary bodies that oversee the veterinary profession. Only this type of network enables the establishment of effective surveillance measures for early detection and rapid response to animal disease outbreaks which can endanger both domestic and wild animal populations, as well as human health. This veterinary network should also take on the task of overseeing and closely supervising the use of antibiotics in animals. Finally, in response to a specific question on the African swine fever crisis, Dr. Vallat highlighted the importance of close collaboration with those on the ground – in this case, hunters – to detect outbreaks affecting wild animals as soon as possible and to regulate wild boar populations in a balanced manner.

You can download the presentation given by Dr. Vallat for more information.