Commissioner for Health and Food Safety recognises the role of hunters in detecting and fighting diseases
21 March 2018

The Technical Assistance and Information Exchange instrument of the European Commission (TAIEX) organised a workshop  on “The role of wildlife in animal health management” , on 8-9th, March, 2018, in Sofia, Bulgaria, with the aim to give an overview of the role of the wildlife in the context of the animal health management in the EU and in the neighbouring non-EU counties. The meeting focused on the strengthening and future perspectives of harmonising and adapting the measures related to wildlife management with a view to the existing threats of introduction and spread of animal diseases affecting both wildlife and domestic animals (including Classical and African Swine Fever, Avian Influenza, Rabies, Foot-and-Mouth Disease and others). The event was a platform for improving the cooperation on regional level between EU and neighbouring countries.

Photo credit: Bernard Van Goethem

The European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis  Andriukaitis  in his speech recognised the role of hunters in detecting and fighting diseases:

“Minister, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am grateful to you Minister Porodzanov and your team for hosting this workshop – which is co-organised by the European Commission, TAIEX and the Bulgarian Presidency of the European Union.

I warmly welcome our veterinary colleagues and wildlife specialists from the public authorities of EU Member States together with eleven (11) neighbouring countries, Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Georgia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine.

We also have with us today representatives of the World Organisation for Animal Health; the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation; the European Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation; many EU national hunting associations; representatives of media for hunters; and representatives of other stakeholders. Let me extend a very warm welcome to all of you.

Why are we all here? Why is this conference so important? The answer is simple: we are here because the last 10 years have shown very clearly that farm animal health is possible only through a serious and coherent management of wildlife. This wide representation of expertise and interests reflects the importance of the interaction of wildlife in the context of animal health management in the EU and neighbouring countries.  The most current and pressing example is the challenge of African swine fever and its spread via wild boar. I will expand on this later. Of course each animal disease has its own characteristics and brings its own challenges.  For example, for rabies there is a vaccine available that has been used with great success in the past and which has led us to the near eradication of the disease in the EU.  African swine fever, by contrast, presents a totally different challenge.

Clearly there is no one-size-fits-all overall strategy to deal with wildlife in relation to animal health management.Much depends on the disease and the environment.  Individual approaches are needed, preferably in a harmonised manner following an agreed approach. In this respect the support and commitment from all concerned is of the utmost importance.

And when I say ‘all concerned’ I mean not only the veterinarians and the official authorities, but all those who have a link and an interest in the management of wildlife: from hunters to environmentalists, from farmers to researchers, from travellers to the everyday person who goes walking in the forest. As dramatically indicated by African Swine Fever only a serious, integrated involvement of all actors can lead to a successful management of the risk represented by the spread of diseases through wildlife.

For this reason, EU animal health policy is the result of a long and continuous development in the fight against transmissible animal diseases. This policy covers all animals in the EU kept for food, farming, sport, companionship, entertainment, as well as animals used in research and kept in zoos. It is currently covered in many different pieces of EU legislation which will be replaced, over time, by the new Animal Health Law and its implementing legislation.

The new Animal Health Law which provides the EU framework legislation will be presented in more detail during the course of this event. The outcome of our discussions today will feed into the process of drafting implementing legislation.  I should add that since key elements need to be in place by next April (2019), the timing of this conference is most appropriate. The EU legislation covers wild animals, in particular where there is a risk of them transmitting diseases to farmed or domestic animals, or to people. We know that wild animals play a very important epidemiological role as regards the emergence, re-emergence, spread and maintenance of certain diseases which pose a significant threat to animal and public health and to the EU economy. Therefore constant monitoring and proper management of wild animals remains an essential element to fight, control and eradicate major diseases – such as avian influenza, rabies, foot-and-mouth disease and classical swine fever. But we must also not forget diseases like tuberculosis and brucellosis where the role of wildlife in the spread is also important, albeit for different reasons. And most importantly we face up to new challenges that lie ahead of us – such as chronic wasting disease or the progressive effects of climate change which is behind the arrival of Lumpy Skin Disease on the European continent. Regarding chronic wasting disease, the discovery in April 2016 of the first case of this disease in a wild reindeer in Norway brought chronic wasting disease to the doorstep of the EU and also firmly onto its agenda. Indeed, while chronic wasting disease is widespread in the USA and Canada, it was, up to that point, believed to be absent in Europe. Like African swine fever, chronic wasting disease is extremely hard to control in the environment and needs a special and extensive strategy to effectively control it.   

Climate change is already affecting the dynamic of many diseases.  This is evident in relation to vector-borne diseases transmitted by insects that are clearly expanding in terms of range and in response to changing seasonality patterns. But changes in climate also play a role for other diseases such as avian influenza, since migratory birds are very sensitive to climatic changes. We should be ready to enhance our preparedness for the challenges that many diseases pose in relation to climate change; and also for emerging and other diseases that might invade EU territory in future. Early detection is of paramount importance in this context, and experts on wildlife are essential in this regard – and especially hunters provide a most valuable source of timely and reliable information.

I would therefore ask the hunters here today to please “keep an eye and report” at all times and under all conditions.  Your role is pivotal.

Finally, let me come back to one of the most pressing disease that we are facing today – African swine fever. Let me first reassure you that the fight against African swine fever remains an important issue for the Commission and indeed for me personally.  A wide range of effective initiatives, already been undertaken by the Commission, and our harmonised strategy have enabled the effective containment of African swine fever in relatively limited areas. In the meanwhile we are increasing also our support to scientific research to increase the chances to find a vaccine in the future and we intend to do more to find a common methodology to quantify wild boar in the EU and to manage thir numbers.  In the meanwhile our initiatives, despite some sporadic human mediated ”jumps”, have kept the African swine fever situation relatively under control in EU Member States, since its first occurrence in the EU in 2014. However, the situation of African swine fever in neighbouring countries – notably the Russian Federation, Moldova and Ukraine – remains a serious concern. Given the essential need to control the disease in our bordering neighbours, the EU started to provide support to such countries through training, the dispatch of experts and laboratory reagents.  Two pilot projects on African swine fever in Ukraine and Moldova are being implemented at this very moment. These are examples of the need to work more and more on a transnational response to African Swine Fever a point which I am constantly making from the beginning of my mandate. We all understand that African swine fever cannot be easily eradicated. The fight against this disease in some regions will remain a key battle for the foreseeable future.

The question is: can we eradicate it? And if yes: how and when? My reply is clear: yes we can eradicate it but in order to be successful we need transparency, collaboration and coordinated efforts from all parties: neighbouring countries, politicians, farmers, veterinarians, travellers, the general public and, because of the role of the wild boar in its spread – one of the most important players in this fight – hunters.

Hunters are uniquely placed to make the difference and determine the outcome of this battle – for better or worse – as they may contribute to increasing or reducing the spread of the disease. This point cannot be over-stated and needs to be repeated again and again. Your role is crucial in this battle. We have a number of instruments and tools designed using the latest scientific knowledge and built on the basis of proven experience – including a permanent feeding ban, targeted hunting to reduce the population of wild boar and hunting biosecurity. But to be successful, we need to properly implement those measures in the field – or rather the forest in this case. I therefore count on the active support and cooperation of the hunting community to help win the fight against African swine fever and other key animal diseases.

Thank you for your attention. 

I wish you all a successful meeting, constructive discussions and a very useful exchange of views over the course of these two days here in Sofia.”

About TAIEX

TAIEX is the Technical Assistance and Information Exchange instrument of the European Commission. TAIEX supports public administrations with regard to the approximation, application and enforcement of EU legislation as well as facilitating the sharing of EU best practices. It is largely needs-driven and delivers appropriate tailor-made expertise to address issues at short notice in three ways: workshops, expert missions, and study visits.

Source: European Commission

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