Lack of “robust data” is a problem in controlling EU disease spread

The uncontrolled movement of people and animals across country borders has been highlighted by the European Food Safety Authority (ESFA) as one of the key “pathways” behind the spread of diseases such as African swine fever (ASF).

Not knowing enough about the legal, and illegal, movement of people, animals and animal products between countries, while also having to work with unreliable data, are other points of concern raised by ESFA’s animal health and welfare panel chair, Simon More.

Referring to a range of current diseases, including ASF, Mr More said that ESFA had to respond to an international situation that was constantly changing, with regular reports of infection spreading to new countries and regions.  Such a situation was worsened by the fact that for some countries and regions, the authority was also unable to “rely on robust data”.

“This is particularly true with respect to illegal movements, either of animals, people and animal products,” he said. “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.”

In relation to ASF, for example, he pointed to the way in which the disease had moved from outbreaks in Lithuania in January 2014 and on into Poland, Latvia and Estonia. 

He also gave other examples of disease risks which weren’t far away from the EU.

“On the EU’s southeast borders, there are several trans-boundary diseases affecting cattle and sheep,” he said. “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 also a problem in many regions of the world, and a major threat to agriculture in the EU, with a number of northern African countries reporting outbreaks in 2014.”

EFSA’s role in helping to counter such threats, he continued, included the provision of scientific information to support policy decision-making within the EU, with his own animal health and welfare panel producing regular “scientific opinions” on individual trans-boundary diseases, as and when they were seen as a threat to the EU. This included looking at potential “routes of transmission”, regularly updating disease spread information and assessing all “possible pathways” for the introduction of infection into the EU. 

See Mr More’s full EFSA interview and support documents on individual diseases

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