Transboundary Animal Diseases: What are the Risks in the EU?

EU - Transboundary animal diseases are highly contagious diseases that can spread rapidly across national borders. They can cause high rates of death and disease in animals, thereby having serious socio-economic and sometimes public health consequences in affected countries. The Chair of EFSA’s Animal Health and Welfare Panel, Simon More, explains what the risks for the European Union are and what EFSA does in this field.
calendar icon 14 January 2015
clock icon 3 minute read

What are the diseases most likely to enter the European Union?

African Swine Fever, for example, is a disease that affects pigs and is present in countries on the eastern borders of the European Union. It spread to Lithuania in January 2014, and later to Poland, Latvia and Estonia.

Simon More of the EFSA considers foot and mouth disease a "major threat", given African outbreaks in north Africa last year. 

Are there any other examples?

On the EU’s southeast borders, there are several transboundary diseases affecting cattle and sheep. These include sheep and goat pox, lumpy skin disease and peste des petits ruminants.

Recurrent outbreaks of sheep and goat pox in Greece and Bulgaria during 2013 and 2014 are the result of spread from neighbouring countries.

Foot and mouth disease is a problem in many regions of the world, and a major threat to agriculture in the EU– a number of northern African countries reported outbreaks in 2014.

What has EFSA done?

EFSA provides scientific information to support policy decision-making within the European Union. Its Panel on Animal Health and Welfare has produced a series of scientific opinions, one for each of these transboundary diseases, looking at a number of common themes:

  • A detailed review of the transboundary disease, including routes of transmission
  • An update on the spread of the disease, with particular emphasis on regions neighbouring the EU
  • An assessment of possible pathways for the introduction of infection into the EU, and of the potential for spread following introduction
  • Appropriate measures to minimise the risk of introduction
  • Appropriate measures to detect and control infection, following introduction

“Certain pathways are more likely –the uncontrolled movement across borders of people and animal products.”

What are the overarching conclusions or themes of this work?

There are many reasons for ongoing spread in neighbouring countries, with areas of conflict being of particular concern. Certain pathways of introduction are more likely – in particular, the uncontrolled movement across borders of people and animal products.

"We have identified measures that are available to reduce the risk of introduction, and to detect and control infection following introduction."

In each case, we have identified measures that are available to reduce the risk of introduction, and to detect and control infection following introduction.

What has the Panel found particularly challenging about this work?

For each of these diseases, the international situation is constantly changing, in large part due to ongoing spread of infection. There are regular reports of infection spreading to new countries and regions. Further, for some countries and regions, we could not rely on robust data – this is particularly true with respect to illegal movements, either of animals, of people and of animal products.

We need a detailed understanding of both legal and illegal movements to give a complete picture of risks associated with infection spread. All these challenges create uncertainties in assessing the risk of introduction.

What can the EU do to keep these diseases out?

For each of these transboundary diseases, options are available to mitigate –reduce– the risk of introduction, and to detect and control infection if introduction were to occur. It is important that policy options are devised after first considering robust scientific information provided by the Panel. These include the disease itself, its distribution, possible pathways for introduction into the EU, appropriate measures to minimise this risk, and appropriate measures to detect and control infection, following introduction.

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