In late May, representatives from the governments of 139 countries gathered at the Office International des Epizooties annual meeting in Paris to discuss a diverse array of topics. Veterinarians should take note of several highlights; the OIE created an ad hoc group to advise on zoonoses, restructured the disease notification system, adopted animal welfare principles, and made changes to the bovine spongiform encephalopathy standards.
Dr. Lonnie King, dean of Michigan State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, delivered the technical presentation that led to the creation of the ad hoc group to address emerging zoonoses. Dr. King pointed out that over the past several decades, approximately 75 percent of emerging human diseases have been zoonotic. Such driving forces as globalization, technology, restructuring of agricultural systems, and consumerism are creating a new era of emerging and reemerging zoonoses, he said, and this demands the attention and strategic actions of the OIE.
Other member countries agree. A recent survey of OIE member countries reveals almost unanimous support for the organization to become more engaged in training and educational programs for emerging and reemerging zoonotic diseases.
The new ad hoc group will address the growing need for prevention, surveillance, detection, and response strategies for emerging and reemerging zoonoses. It will also provide advice on developing sustainable agriculture that does not increase disease, as well as offer input on surveillance systems that cover the wildlife, domestic animal, and human continuum.
A second item of note is the creation of a combined list of diseases for the notification and epidemiologic information reporting system. Currently, the OIE divides diseases into two lists. Diseases on list A are ones that require urgent action if discovered and include foot-and-mouth disease. List B diseases, such as anthrax, spread more slowly or are not as economically important. By 2005, the OIE will replace these two lists with one.
Dr. Lyle P. Vogel, director of the AVMA Scientific Activities Division who attended the meeting, says that one of the main reasons for the change is that diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, and Nipah and Hendra virus infections—which affect humans as well as other animals—were not on either list, and thus, were not reported immediately.
The overriding criterion for a disease to be included on the new list is its potential for international spread. Zoonotic potential and the capacity for substantial spread within naïve populations will also be considered. Diseases will be added or subtracted from the list via recommendation from the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Standards Commission, and veterinarians will report diseases according to this new list when it goes into effect in 2005.
Also impacting U.S. veterinarians are changes to BSE policy. At its annual meeting, the OIE voted to consider whether cattle are being fed any mammalian, not just ruminant, meat and bone meal, in determining the BSE status of a country.
"The OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code Commission did not believe the change from ruminant to mammal was necessary, based on science, but some countries wanted the change because of enforcement problems in their own country," Dr. Vogel explains.
Dr. Vogel says that only time will tell how it will affect the United States. "We will need to wait and see when, and if, the U.S. applies for recognition of BSE-free or BSE provisionally free status," he said. "With the current feed rules in the U.S., we will not be able to comply with the new criterion, but may be able to qualify under other criteria."
A fourth item of note from the OIE meeting was the adoption of eight guiding principles for developing animal welfare policies. Dr. Gail Golab, assistant director of professional and public affairs at the AVMA, says she thinks most veterinarians will be comfortable with the principles as adopted although some may have issues with part of the second principle. The second principle states that animal welfare policies will be guided by the recognition of five freedoms—from hunger, thirst, and malnutrition; from fear and distress; from physical and thermal discomfort; from pain, injury, and disease; and to express normal patterns of behavior.
"Some veterinarians have expressed concern about how normal behavior will be defined," Dr. Golab said. "Some behaviors in confinement may be adaptive and considered by some to be "normal" in that context, whereas they might not be considered "normal" by others, i.e., there is some concern about the subjectivity of this guiding principle from both ends. Since these are general guiding principles, we would expect this to be approached in more detail in the guidelines for each area of concern such as transport and housing."
See sidebar at right for the full list of OIE animal welfare guiding principles.
Dr. Michael David, director of the Sanitary International Standards Team, also attended the OIE meeting. According to him, during the course of the next year, the guiding principles will lead various ad hoc groups within the OIE while they develop additional chapters on the welfare of animals during land and sea transport, slaughter for food, and culling for disease control purposes. The OIE will also establish an animal welfare ad hoc group for aquatic animals and aquaculture.
Dr. Vogel says the OIE also made several pleas for people to nominate experts and provide databases of scientific information on animal welfare.
Issues in the pipeline
In future OIE meetings, several issues will most likely be addressed. At this year's meeting, Dr. Luis Osvaldo Barcos, a private veterinary practitioner from Buenos Aires, Argentina, summarized results from a survey regarding OIE member countries' animal identification and traceability plans.
The survey revealed that most member countries thought that the OIE should propose the creation of international rules and guidelines, and the OIE plans to delve into this issue further. The OIE will also revisit avian influenza standards, with the aim of providing greater protection for importing countries while eliminating unjustified barriers to trade.
For further information on the OIE meeting, visit www.oie.int/eng/OIE/actes/en_resolutions.htm.