It’s time for the tough talk about global animal health standards and regulations. The regulations that recommend standards for trade in meat and livestock are not only antiquated but pose serious risks to both producers and consumers globally.
The World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH, formerly known as the OIE), is an “intergovernmental organization working to coordinate the global response to animal health emergencies, the prevention of zoonotic diseases, the promotion of animal health and welfare, and better access to animal health care”. A key function of the organization is to develop and recommend standards of livestock, poultry and meat trade in relation to a country’s disease status. Many of these standards were developed around disease outbreaks historically. The organization holds no authority for enforcement of standards, but recommends global standards that technically could be used as evidence for enforcement via other trade bodies such as the WTO.
Last year global meat and poultry exports totaled US$106 billion, up nearly five-fold from 2000. Exports to Asia alone reached US$61 billion, up six-fold from 2000. Better logistics, more consumer dollars, and simply more consumers have all fueled this incredible growth.
Not only has import dependence grown among key nations, but export dependency has risen for key nations as well. Brazilian meat and poultry exports are up 12-fold from 2000 at US$25 billion last year; these exports nearly doubled the past 8 years. Brazil, the U.S., Europe, Australia, and Canada round out the top five exporting nations, exporting US$72 billion last year, or 75% of the global meat/poultry total. Not only are global consumers more dependent on imported meat and poultry, but global farmers are much more dependent on exports as well.
So here are some examples of flaws in this precarious system:
* Brazil finds a single “atypical” case of BSE and destroys the cow without it entering the food chain. Yet China halts all imports from Brazil at the reported cost of US$25 million per day for 30+ days. Brazil is the largest beef exporter globally, China the largest beef importer. That trade has been halted by a disease with zero risk to Chinese consumers. China also bans Canadian beef over an atypical BSE case.
* Germany finds ASF initially in wild boars and is instantly banned from exporting to China where ASF is now assumed to be endemic. No regionalization discussion. No discussion about wild boars versus domestic cases (Germany later found domestic farm infections).
* China bans all U.S. poultry in 2015 rather than considering regionalization standards like nearly every other nation.
* Some nations rarely report animal diseases or lag the results of their testing.
There are many other examples. And no single country is pure in their efforts to follow WOAH standards. The lack of enforcement makes arbitrary actions the norm. Consider the risks of Lump Skin Disease or Foot and Mouth Disease (both spreading in Indonesia) to the Australian beef industry which now exports 69% of their production; both diseases are export-killers. Or consider the risk to Canada’s pork industry, exporting 67% of their production were a single wild boar to found with African Swine Fever (ASF). It is questionable how the industry would survive a global export ban. Yet that wild boar finding poses no risk to global buyers of Canadian pork. Other examples exist.
It is time for a new discussion on risk-based trading standards for meat, livestock, and poultry. Improvements in science and technology provide new solutions that could manage risk while allow some trade to continue. Step 1: Acknowledge the frailty and flaws of the current system and begin to build consensus among key trading partners that changes are needed. Step 2: Leverage the coalition of nations to drive change. This is FAR more complex than it sounds, but that is NOT a reason for inaction. More to come on this topic. – Brett Stuart