Insights into Sanitary Measures and the Role of the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH)
Dr. Biandri Joubert, Specialist in Sanitary and phytosanitary measures – non-tariff barriers in international trade
Livestock is an interesting topic and an important industry in Zimbabwe as it contributes to the country in many ways. A livestock industry in any country is dependent on there being as few diseases as possible and when a problematic disease does break out that, there are ways to identify it and then control it. In international trade terms it is important to control diseases “behind the border” to keep export markets open. In this article, I talk about the role of the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), originally founded as the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) in this context and the type of information that the organisation gathers and shares, and why this is interesting and important to anyone involved in livestock farming.
As explained in my first article in this series (see ZiMunda issue 12), the principles, rights and obligation of international trade law find their way into practical application at different levels of law. The international essentially informs the regional and domestic law and within this network private standards and self-regulation also exist. Agriculture related international trade law in this space includes veterinary law, food safety, the control of invasive pests, diseases etc. The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) is one which is concerned with the application of measures that protect human, animal and plant life and health from risks associated with trade. The agreement affects many aspects of farming ranging from inputs to production and shipment procedures. In principle the agreement requires that measures are justified or based on science and there are three international standard setting bodies which provide guidelines to Members regarding these standards. These are the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), the Codex Alimentarius Commission and the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). The WOAH is the relevant standard-setting organization for animal health and zoonoses. The FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) is the relevant standard-setting organization for food safety. This article focuses only on the WOAH.
When it comes to moving animals or animal products across borders, there’s a whole set of formal rules and standards known as “sanitary measures“ that need to be followed. These measures can take the form of laws, decrees, regulations, requirements and procedures. This also includes Statutory Instruments (SI’s). Sanitary measures also include quarantine treatments including relevant requirements associated with the transport of animals, or with the materials necessary for their survival during transport. Sanitary measures are essential to curbing the spread of diseases in livestock. Outbreaks of diseases like foot-and-mouth disease, avian influenza, and African swine fever can devastate entire livestock sectors, leading to economic losses, food shortages, and potential public health risks. Effective sanitary measures include biosecurity protocols, vaccination programs, and quarantine procedures. By minimizing the risk of disease transmission within and between animal populations, sanitary measures contribute to stable and resilient livestock farming systems. Sanitary measures extend beyond the farm gate to encompass transportation, processing, and distribution of livestock products. Proper handling and storage during these stages are vital.
The World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) provides guidelines and recommendations across a large amount of aspects of animal health and animal welfare. Other useful resources are the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
The World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH)
The WOAH provides a wealth of information in the form of standards and publications. The standards that provide Governments with guidelines for the improvement of animal health, animal welfare and veterinary public health are contained in four primary documents. The Terrestrial Animal Health Code (for animals that predominantly live on land), the Aquatic Animal Health Code (for animals that predominantly live in water), the Manual of Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines for Terrestrial Animals (Terrestrial Manual) and the Manual of Diagnostic Tests for Aquatic Animals (the Aquatic Manual). These manuals and codes serve as vital tools for international collaboration on a Government-to-Government level, helping Zimbabwe and other countries work together to address the challenges posed by emerging diseases, changing trade dynamics, and evolving scientific knowledge. Additionally, there are publications, reports, handbooks and other documents authored for and published by the WOAH. These documents, the manuals, codes and publications are open for anyone, including individuals, to have a look at and gather information or guidance. Governments determine formal sanitary measures and negotiate with other countries over international trade aspects. However, at a farm level, a farmer can implement non-mandatory measures such as biosecurity measures (footbaths etc.) for their own pro-active on farm prevention or control of livestock diseases.
Diseases of Importance to International Trade
In an international trade context there are certain diseases of particular importance. The presence of these diseases in a country, a zone or a compartment may result in the prohibition of exports to other countries until disease free status is restrained. An example is foot-and-mouth disease or avian influenza. Both diseases are of international concern and the particular strain present could further complicate control and eventual reinstatement of disease free status. The Terrestrial code provides Government with guidelines with regard to these diseases. A few examples are Chapter 8.8. Infection with foot and mouth disease virus; Chapter 8.9. Heart water; Chapter 8.4. Infection with Brucella abortus, B. melitensis and B. suis; Chapter 10.4. Infection with high pathogenicity avian influenza viruses; and Chapter 11.9. Infection with lumpy skin disease virus. Individual livestock farmers may also find value in these chapters as they guide best practices that can also be applied in a self-regulatory manner on farm.
Livestock farmers can further benefit from exploring the Terrestrial Code by gaining access to, for example, information about best practices and guidelines for disease prevention, biosecurity measures, and animal welfare. Implementing these guidelines can help them protect their animals from diseases, improve productivity, and enhance the overall health of their livestock. Individuals and organizations focused on animal welfare can use the Terrestrial Code as a reference to promote and advocate for better animal care practices. The code includes sections on animal welfare, handling, and transportation, providing a basis for raising awareness about humane treatment and responsible care of animals. Animal welfare considerations are detailed in the Terrestrial code and there are many species specific guidelines as well as general guidelines. For example, Chapter 7.3 Transport of animals by land; Chapter 7.5 Slaughter of animals; Chapter 7.9 Animal welfare and beef cattle production systems; Chapter 7.10. Animal welfare and broiler chicken production systems; Chapter 7.11. Animal welfare and dairy cattle production systems; Chapter 7.12. Welfare of working equids; Chapter 7.13. Animal welfare and pig production systems; and Chapter 7.14. Killing of reptiles for their skins, meat and other products. These are packed with ideas and guidance for farmers to implement in their own livestock production.
Veterinary practitioners can leverage the Terrestrial and Aquatic Codes as a valuable resource for up-to-date information on disease management, diagnostics, and treatment options. It helps them align their practices with internationally recognised standards, contributing to better animal health outcomes. There are also resources and publications that discuss trends in disease control, for example and focus on specific diseases of significant concern, such as avian influenza.
Transparency and Notification of Diseases to Trading Partners
There are two different transparency requirements in the context of livestock, animal diseases and sanitary measures to be aware of as a livestock farmer.
- The first is transparency under Article 7 of the SPS Agreement that, obliges WTO Members to notify changes in, and provide relevant information on, sanitary measures (laws, regulations, SI’s etc.) that may, directly or indirectly, affect international trade. These can be found on the WTO website e-ping portal. They are notified on a Government-to Government-level but the notifications are publicly available through the WTO.
- The second is transparency under Chapter 1.1 of the WOAH Terrestrial Code that requires notification of diseases and provision of epidemiological information. The WOAH’s World Animal Health Information System (WAHIS) interface records and shares this information and WAHIS also circulates it to anyone signed up for notifications. This is therefore official information shared by a reporting country made available to other countries through the WOAH.
Transparency in reporting is important in the WOAH context because it helps minimise the spread of important animal diseases and assists in achieving better worldwide control of these diseases. Governments are required by Chapter 1.1 of the Terrestrial Code to notify other countries, through the WOAH, of diseases and to provide epidemiological information when there is confirmation of specified diseases in their territory. Transparency really just means that if a disease is recorded this information is made available so as to put other countries, and ultimately livestock farmers in a position where they can adjust their practices or expectations accordingly too. Depending on the severity of the disease recorded a country can lose its designation as “disease free”. Losing this status has serious implications like in some cases the inability to export those products to other countries.
The information reported by the reporting country is detailed. The type of information recorded is, for example, the reason for the notification of a disease to the WOAH. The reason for a notification could be that it’s a first occurrence in a country, it’s an emerging disease, it’s identified in a new host, is a new strain in the country and many more potential reasons exist. Other information recorded is, for example, the strain, location, event start date, event confirmation date, event closing date, date last occurrence, species, animals susceptible and cases. This is information that is important not only for internal control of the disease but for trading partners to know what actions they need to take next to secure their own safety from the risk of spread associated with trade. The same applies to outbreaks in countries from which Zimbabwe imports into the country. It is in every trading partner’s best interests to know what the disease situation is in the country they are importing from.
A history of accurate and updated notifications can provide trading partners with assurance that a country knows the disease status of their country and is transparent about this risks. This in turn can lead to more good will in adopting measures that include zoning or compartmentalisation, for example, as opposed to blanket loss of disease free status of a country in the event of an outbreak. A high notification record is therefore potentially a positive trade tool. It is for this reason that the identification and reporting of listed diseases at farm level is made to the relevant veterinary professionals. It is the first step in notifying the WOAH and ultimately trade partners as it is a vital part of the protection of animals from diseases, improving productivity, and enhancing the overall health of livestock.
For more information WhatsApp Dr Biandri Joubert on +27 83 465 1513 or email email@example.com.
There is a vast amount of free information available to livestock farmers to help guide their own on farm practices and to further understand the role of animal health and welfare in an international trade context. I have introduced a few aspects above. The QR codes below link a few of these:
QR Code: 1 WOAH (formerly OIE) Homepage
QR Code: 2 WOAH Publications
QR Code: 3 WOAH Codes and Manuals