David Martin MEP

Labour Member of the European Parliament and one of the six MEPs representing Scotland in Brussels and Strasbourg

A Shared Risk

The Caithness Courier, February 2016

As outbreaks of avian flu and mad cow disease have shown, animal diseases can prove harmful to both animals and the human population. Transmissible diseases in animals bring devastating losses in production and trade as well as the huge costs of eradication measures. Some animal diseases are also transmissible to humans and can therefore pose a risk to public health. Transmissible animal diseases do not stop at borders. We therefore need to find control and surveillance methods beyond the national level.

Although not a member of the Parliament’s Agriculture committee, I have always been greatly concerned with animal welfare and have for many years been a member of the Parliament's Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals. Last month the Intergroup discussed the overuse of antimicrobials (or antibiotics) in intensive animal production. This is contributing to the resistance to the treatment’s effectiveness and a serious threat to the health of humans and animals alike.

I was therefore very pleased that the European Parliament’s Agriculture committee agreed last month on new measures to prevent and stop future outbreaks of diseases in animals. This draft EU law, on diseases that are transmissible among animals and potentially to humans too, will put more emphasis on prevention and help keep pace with scientific progress. Animal health and good animal husbandry will now be connected with human health as efforts are taken to reduce the amount of antibiotics we use in order to fight antimicrobial resistance. The new law also aims to make it possible for both authorities and producers to focus more on prevention and on combating the spread of dangerous transmittable diseases. Furthermore, all disease control measures will have to take animal welfare into account and spare the animals involved, including stray animals, any avoidable pain, distress or suffering. I also welcome that the new framework has managed to bring a previously cumbersome group of 40 different legal acts down to a single one.

The new measures include allowing the European Commission to ask EU countries to establish a national database of pets. Pets are Europe's most profitable illegal trade after narcotics and weapons. Across Europe millions of animals, mainly cats and dogs, are bred, traded and transported purely for profit without any consideration for their welfare or for the implications for the spreading of diseases.

A European Pet Travel Scheme was introduced in 2001 and further strengthened in 2013 to allow the movement of pets, with their owners, for non-commercial purposes. These ‘pet passports’ are being easily forged, often by criminal gangs. It is often the case that illegally bred and transported pets, unwittingly purchased by unsuspecting owners, then require treatment with first generation antibiotics. This further contributes to the growing threat of antibiotic resistance.

My first thoughts are of the terrible suffering endured by these poor animals, many of which are bred in horrific conditions then left to die or be abandoned, but there is also the issue of transmissible diseases which pose risks not only to animals, but to humans too.

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