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For both animals and people, prevention is not only better than cure: it is also more profitable.
But for ranchers already operating on tight margins, it can be hard to recognize the unseen cost savings of avoiding a disease outbreak.
For example, a single outbreak of bird flu cost the Netherlands only around €150 million in 2003, with the culling of some 30 million birds. The UK faces similar losses from the ongoing record outbreak.
Prevention through vaccination, biosecurity or good feeding and housing can save the cost of animal diseases without the full figure at stake being truly known by authorities and industry.
With the new EU rules on veterinary medicines coming into force on Friday 28 January, farmers will have access to a wider range of options when it comes to disease prevention. This should be accepted as an investment opportunity, rather than an upfront cost with returns that are difficult to quantify.
A plethora of new benefits for EU farmers
One of the key changes in the new regulations is that veterinary prescriptions will be valid throughout the EU, giving farmers greater flexibility to access medicines for more species and in more countries.
With the increased availability of animal medicines and other products that increase immunity to disease, farmers and veterinarians will be better able to prevent and respond to the unique health threats and challenges facing their animals.
Research suggests that farmers who develop herd-specific action plans in conjunction with their veterinarian can help increase productivity by preventing disease and health problems.
For example, one study found tailored strategies to reduce disease while antibiotic use led to higher daily weight gain, lower mortality, and higher profitability on pig farms.
The new rules also have the potential to stimulate further innovation and advances in veterinary research and development, both by alleviating the administrative burden of bringing new products to market and by opening up market access.
Meanwhile, a more streamlined approval process for veterinary products, particularly those used for minor species or rare diseases, will make vaccine and product development more profitable for smaller operations, bringing more diversity and competition to the industry. .
Allowing veterinary medicines to be imported within the EU (and in some cases from third countries) more easily will also make Europe a more attractive market for major manufacturers.
Database of approved drugs and notifiable diseases system
With some of the barriers and obstacles to innovation removed, European farmers and veterinarians are likely to benefit from next-generation products that are more affordable and effective in reducing disease risk.
Finally, a new EU-wide database of approved medicines for animals will allow veterinarians and farmers to find out where a medicine or treatment may be available and consider possible alternatives – a valuable resource, given that three-quarters of veterinarians they look for drugs daily or weekly.
This will maximize the chance of finding the most appropriate product for the farmer’s specific circumstances and increase the likelihood of success in keeping livestock healthy and disease free.
Meanwhile, a new system for notifiable diseases introduced under the Animal Health Act will also mean greater consistency across Europe regarding imminent and nearby disease threats.
This is especially important for diseases such as avian influenza, African swine fever and others, which rely on biosecurity measures for containment, making early warning critical to prevent the spread of outbreaks.
To conclude, it can be tempting for farmers to see disease prevention as an additional cost on top of their day-to-day overhead, especially if they believe the risk is low.
But outbreak prevention not only helps them avoid unnecessary direct and indirect losses and animal suffering, it also maximizes industry productivity. Prevention is better and ultimately more profitable than any cure.
Nancy De Briyne is executive director of the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE).