Shielding Animal Health and Ensuring Food Safety

EU - Since the '90s when BSE and other animal diseases were delivering severe blows to industry and consumer confidence alike, the European Union has come a long way in its efforts to reinforce Animal Health and Food Safety .
calendar icon 14 June 2010
clock icon 4 minute read

Traceability, the ability to follow animals or food products throughout their lifecycle –from the moment they are born or produced till they end up in our plate: from farm to fork– has been at the forefront of these efforts. These issues will be at the heart of this year's EU Veterinary Week (EVW), which starts on Monday, June 14, and ends on Sunday, June 20. A two-day conference on identification and traceability along the food chain will kick off this year's EVW.

Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli said: "Today, we take it for granted that we know the full history of a piece of beef or that we can trace individual sheep in the EU and food products throughout the whole food chain. This level of animal health protection and food safety was not achieved overnight. It took years to arrive at a robust and comprehensive legal framework and to develop the necessary tools that would strengthen our food chain". The Commissioner added: "The 2010 Veterinary Week will highlight these achievements, in particular traceability."

Challenges and benefits

Tracing animals and animal products in a free market of 27 Member States requires sophisticated systems. Citizens are often unaware of the importance and the benefits this procedure brings along, while sometimes the industry views EU traceability rules as burdensome.

Experience shows that traceability helps ensure the highest possible levels of food safety and hygiene. In other words, it limits the risks of the EU having to cope again with serious animal diseases, such as BSE, foot-and-mouth disease or classical swine fever, while when they do emerge, it helps ensure that they are dealt with in a speedy and efficient manner as the outbreak point is quickly discovered.

In addition, traceability ensures food quality and taste as it guarantees, for example, the origin of regional specialities. The consumer knows his feta is the real thing from Greece, his Iberico ham came from Spain, "Irish Beef" from Ireland and parmesan cheese from Italy. Traceability can also address ethical elements by ensuring, for example, that only food produced in organic farms can be labelled as organic.

Traceability conference

The main aim of the traceability conference on 14/15 June is to outline the benefits of identification and traceability. Among the topics to be covered during the conference are Animal Health (including zoonoses), disease prevention and control, food safety and quality, labelling, consumer confidence, animal welfare and crisis management.

Among the expected 400 or so participants there will be representatives from the Member States – including Chief Veterinary Officers, Members of the European Parliament, representatives from the Veterinary and Medical Associations, scientific experts and representatives of farmers' associations.

Other events

Before the conference's opening session, Commissioner Dalli and the Director General of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) Bernard Vallat will sign a Memorandum of Understanding. It aims to facilitate the attainment of common communication goals for the World Veterinary Year "Vet2011," which will be celebrated next year.

The European Commission and the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe organised the now annual EVW for the first time in 2008.

During this year's EVW a number of events will take place in EU Member States and will be organised by the competent authorities, veterinary associations and EU veterinary faculties. During these events, information concerning identification and traceability will be distributed together with EU veterinary diaries for the academic year 2010-2011. Their goal is to encourage discussions between veterinary and agricultural students and better co-operation between professionals of the two fields.

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