Animal Health Matters - Department of Agriculture

Animal Health1
The views expressed in this background paper do not purport to reflect the views of the Minister or the
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
Introduction - globalisation: opportunities and challenges
Ireland as a small open economy has benefited enormously from global export trade.
Globalisation however has brought both benefits and challenges to Irish farmers and
food processors. As globalisation has intensified (in particular, with an increase in
agricultural exports from countries in the developing world), Irish farmers and food
processors now face additional competitive challenges. At farm level these are
reflected in downward pressures on farm-gate returns, decreasing levels of subsidy
support and additional pressures to the cost of production associated with increases in
farm input costs. Ireland must increasingly compete against agricultural products from
a range of other exporting nations, including northern Europe, North America,
Australasia and South America. In coming years, therefore, the viability of Irish
agriculture will depend, in large part, on the ability of industry to maximise the
competitiveness of Irish product.
Animal Health in a global trading environment
Animal health is a critical contributor to the international competitiveness of
agricultural product. Ireland has benefited from its image as a ‘green’ natural grassbased production facility, with a healthy herd of naturally reared animals – supporting
access to some important high profile markets. However, whilst good animal health
is perceived to deliver safe wholesome food, increasingly Ireland’s position in this
regard is subject to challenge – recalling the BSE situation and the feed contamination
event of 2008. It is increasingly likely that international competitors will seek to
challenge this strong marketing position and Ireland will need to be in a position to
bolster marketing claims with robust supporting evidence.
The critical role of animal health can be seen to have an impact at two levels. Firstly
in the national and international market-place. This is due to the impact (perceived or
otherwise) of animal disease on product quality, safety and food security and also to
the specific importance of animal health in international trade. Secondly, animal
health is a critical contributor to efficiency, profitability and thus competitiveness at
individual farm level.
Ireland’s current animal health performance
Animal health issues may be considered in two broad categories i. Those issues where ‘biosecurity’ is important (in broad terms, this includes
diseases such as bovine tuberculosis, bovine brucellosis, infectious bovine
rhinotracheitis (IBR), or Johne’s) and of concern to those who ‘neighbour’ or
purchase from infected farms, as well as the infected farm itself), and
ii. Those diseases where ‘between herd biosecurity’ is generally not the most
significant concern, such as mastitis, fertility or lameness and where the
‘problem’ relates to the individual farm itself.
Of the ‘biosecure’ diseases, some are currently subject to government-led control with
a view to reduction and eradication (such as bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis),
whereas others (IBR, BVD, Johne’s disease) are not.
In areas of animal health where government is currently involved, there has been
some significant progress. An example is the eradication of bovine brucellosis, with
the recent recognition of Ireland as being an Officially Brucellosis Free country - and
the resolution of the BSE issue.
In areas of animal health where government is not currently involved, Ireland would
not be considered to be to the forefront of international efforts in achieving
international best-practice, either in the adoption of appropriate processes or in
measured outputs.
The beneficiaries of improvements in animal health
Animal health is also a critical contributor to both international competitiveness and
on-farm profitability. Among the potential adverse impacts from animal diseases and
sub-optimal health2, include:
 Adverse effects on food safety and human health, with consequent economic
costs including increased health service demands,
 Major national socio-economic consequences, through very serious
international trade losses, national market disruption and very serious
production losses in the livestock industries,
 Less significant national/regional socio-economic consequences, and
 Consequences that mainly affect the industry alone, such as production loss
These impacts represent a gradation of effects. There is substantial ‘public good’
associated with the control of animal diseases that also have serious effects on human
health. Conversely, there is little ‘public good’, but substantial ‘private good’,
associated with the control of animal diseases, which have consequences that mainly
affect the industry alone.
Comparative position within EU
In considering relative animal health positions of countries, one must seek to evaluate
across three distinct categories –
i. Assessing positions regarding the high profile global epizootics,
ii. Evaluating progress in eradicating a range of what might be termed ‘second
order’ diseases, (some of which have public health significance whilst others
are primarily production impacting diseases) and
iii. The distribution, impacts and responses to underlying endemic diseases,
(which are primarily production impacting conditions).
Ireland has a relatively enviable animal health position with regard to many of the
significant epizootic diseases that occur internationally and even within Europe. Over
the years, Ireland has maintained (or quickly regained) freedom from many of these
significant epizootics such as Foot & Mouth Disease, Classical Swine Fever, African
Swine Fever, Rabies, African Horse Sickness, Avian Influenza, Newcastle disease.
Ireland is also fortunate that it is free from brucella in small ruminants (Brucella
melitensis), which is a very significant zoonoses throughout many regions of southern
Europe. Ireland can point to success in addressing food safety concerns relating to
Salmonella typhimurium and Salmonella enteriditis in the egg and poultry industries,
to overcoming significant challenges associated with transmissible spongiform
encephalopathies in ruminants and in eradicating bovine brucellosis. On a less
positive note, progress with regard to control and eradication of bovine tuberculosis
remains stubbornly slow, however Ireland is leading international efforts towards a
practical solution to the problems presented by an infected protected wildlife
At farm production level, Ireland faces significant challenges across all species –
mainly associated with both clinical and sub-clinical disease relating to udder health,
fertility, lameness and numerous viral diseases, (with respiratory, enteric and
reproductive manifestations).
Attached EU maps, produced in 2008, provide a visual display of the distribution of a
number of diseases across the EU.
To be updated to reflect decision in Aug 2009 to recognise Ireland, Poland and the
Azores as OBF.
Response to globalisation among international competitors
International competitors have adopted a range of strategies in response to
globalisation, including:
 Leveraging a natural geographic advantage;
 Reporting transparently on the status of national animal health to support
marketing messages
 Systematically improving national/on-farm animal health status; and
 Achieving national traceability of livestock product.
As two examples, the Netherlands and Australia are considered here.
The Netherlands. Efforts towards improved animal health status in the Netherlands
are led by GD (Animal Health Services Deventer)3, an organisation founded in 1919
for, and by, Dutch farmers. Now a private company, GD employs more than 180
people, with a turnover in 2005 of €47 million. GD coordinates a large number of
animal health programmes, generally on behalf of national commodity boards. The
Netherlands is leading international efforts in voluntary animal health programmes,
particularly with Johne’s disease in cattle4.
Australia. In Australia, Animal Health Australia (AHA)5, a not-for-profit public
company established by the Australian, state and territory governments and major
national livestock industry organisations manage animal health matters. AHA
manages a suite of national programs6 that position Australia as a world leader in
terms of its animal health status and systems. Further, industry is a key driver of
As highlighted at the 8th International Colloquium on Paratuberculosis in Copenhagen (14-17 August
2005) (
5 The
mission of AHA is to ensure that the national animal health system delivers a competitive advantage and
preferred market access for Australia's livestock industries
6 Including Animal Disease Surveillance, Emergency Animal Disease Preparedness, Johne’s disease and Animal
Health Services
change and innovation. Countdown Downunder7 (improving milk quality) and InCalf8
(improving fertility) were each developed and are managed by Dairy Australia9
Lessons from international success
Those countries leading international efforts in animal health, particularly those in
northern Europe (the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries) and Australasia share a
range of factors that have been instrumental in their efforts towards improved animal
health, including:
 Proactive planning
 Industry-government partnerships
 Industry funding
 A focus on continuous improvement
 Cohesive and integrated industry structures
 National coordination
 Coordination of technical efforts
 Excellence in technical support
 Planned, focused research
 Information for improved decision-making
 Publishing of data to support animal health claims
These ‘critical success factors’ are highly relevant to the competitiveness of Irish
agriculture and farmers.
Challenges – Towards 2020
The significant issues that merit particular attention by way of evaluation include:
A. Need to reach an understanding as to the appropriate cost-sharing mechanisms
relating to resources engaged in animal health improvements and disease
control. This determination can be influenced by current discussions at EU
level, in other member states and in other countries relating to the same issue.
B. Need for initiatives to seek to minimise the negative impact on productivity
and the economic losses associated with both clinical and sub-clinical
manifestations of non-regulated diseases. The collaborative approach by
government and the range of stakeholders within the ‘value chain’ in the
development of Animal Health Ireland (AHI) provides a mechanism by which
on-farm productivity and processing efficiency can be maximised.
Whilst AHI is designed to address animal health concerns across all species,
the reality is that its initial focus will be on bovine diseases, therefore
consideration must be given to health issues arising in other species and how
best these might be addressed in the short term.
7 Countdown
Downunder was established in 1998, in response to EU milk quality requirements
( In 2004, 5.4% of Australian farms exceeded 400,000 cells/ml, in comparison to 20.7%
in Ireland during 2005 (all milk recorded herds, based on monthly results)
9 Dairy Australia is a public company, limited by guarantee. Dairy Australia seeks to ‘deliver world’s best service,
to achieve the Australian dairy industry’s vision of growing an internationally competitive, innovative and
sustainable dairy industry.' This company provides technical expertise and essential services across the whole dairy
value chain, from pre-farm and farm activities, through manufacturing to the end products.
C. Many existing eradication and control programmes are, both statutorily based,
and necessary to ensure that animals and products have international market
access. Nonetheless, the range of activities within these programmes need to
be assessed on an on-going basis to ensure that they are
 Maintained as simple as possible,
 Risk-based,
 Focussed and targeted, and
 Non-essential costs are removed from the programmes.
D. The challenge to animal and human health from globalisation, climate change,
novel or encroaching viruses and other animal or food borne pathogens must
be addressed in a coordinated fashion.
E. Maximum value must be leveraged from the significant investment and
expertise already vested in the DAFF Laboratory Service in the future
development on animal health initiatives and research projects.
F. Ensure that value is optimised from investments in IT infrastructure.
Effective use of data such as, animal health/disease data capture, ‘feed back’
to producers from laboratories, dairy plants, slaughter-plants etc, would enable
clients maximise productivity through understanding the causes of economic
loss and responding effectively to sub-optimal animal health situations.
G. Evaluate the benefits of undertaking appropriate surveillance programmes.
These should support on-farm productivity by the early detection of variance
in animal health/disease incidence and assist competitiveness by generating
animal health data that supports animal and product health and safety claims
H. Coordinate investment in appropriate R&D projects to add value and eliminate
the potential for waste of resources.
I. Evaluate current livestock-farming paradigms to critically assess the extent to
which various practices and systems add or take from the overall value.
Animal movements are important to animal health. Whilst the movement of
animals within the industry is a fundamental necessity, it is universally
accepted that ‘animal movement’ introduces additional risk of animal disease.
Given the perception that the frequency of animal movements in Ireland is
significantly greater than in other countries, it would be prudent to have any
such increased risk quantified.
Key to dealing with many of these issues is the positioning of animal health as an
integral element in the future strategy for the overall sector. This will help integrate its
roles in food safety, productivity, R & D and competitiveness into the overall
planning process and should also ensure that the views of the diverse internal and
external stakeholders are taken on board.
December 2009