Linking Epidemiology and Laboratory Research on Transboundary Animal Diseases and Zoonoses in EU and China

EU-China Cooperation

Both the EU and China are now two of the major worldwide players in animal health research, involving hundreds of researchers in dozens of projects/programmes. With such a vast number of players, the mapping of activities, targeting of the highest research return, and creating coordination between China and the EU are key to avoid overlap and duplication, thus maximizing the scarce resources available for animal health research, while taking advantage of the technical expertise that is available in the opposite region.

To achieve an effective collaboration that will be sustainable in the future, the selection of partners becomes the most critical step. LinkTADs combined a balanced selection of EU and Chinese partners that are world leaders in their areas of expertise: epidemiology, laboratory diagnostics, cross-border cooperation, and policy.

Through a consultation process, LinkTADs first identified and prioritized the areas of research and animal diseases to focus on. This was followed by the careful selection of partners that have the technical expertise, while being officially empowered to conduct work in those areas.

All projects/initiatives related with animal health and international cooperation, networking, and exchange programmes were identified (EU initiatives and Chinese national initiatives). LinkTADs helped link these initiatives by twinning, providing information exchange, and identifying common events, while building on the results and experiences of finalized projects.

LinkTADs proposed a whole range of coordination activities to achieve effective and sustainable coordination between China and the EU.

Animal health control in China

With a population of 1.35 billion people, China has 22 administrative provinces, five autonomous regions, four municipalities and two special administrative regions. China’s animal disease prevention and control system is organised by the Veterinary Bureau of the Ministry of Agriculture, at five levels (i.e. central, provincial, prefecture, county and township) and involves nearly one million staff.  With expediting economic globalization, personal travel and animal/animal product trade have become more frequent. On the other hand, farming output has been rapidly increasing for decades through technological advances, intensification, and expansion of farmed land. In 2011, the inventory of cattle, pigs, sheep and poultry were 103 million, 467 million, 282 million and 5 billion, respectively. Moreover, pigs and poultry are raised under a range of sanitary conditions, which presents challenges for animal health control. Because of the above reasons, China is facing an increase in the risk of transboundary animal diseases (TADs) and zoonoses, as well as in the overall complexity of the situation. Although infectious diseases such as Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) have been effectively controlled, other diseases, such as Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS), Classical Swine Fever (CSF) and Newcastle disease (ND) circulate endemically, resulting in huge economic losses in China. In addition, ASF, an exotic disease, is approaching the borders. This complicated situation of animal infectious diseases requires considerable efforts in animal disease control. The State Council published in 2012 the National Medium to Long Term Plan for the control of animal disease outbreak (2012-20). The government has launched a series of national projects and cooperated with international organisations such as FAO, OIE and WHO to meet the challenge of animal infectious diseases and zoonoses. China’s approach towards the control of existing diseases is continuously evolving [AH Report 2008 and 2009]. 

Europe-China initiatives on International Cooperation/Networking

The Chinese Science and Technology (S&T) and innovation system is developing extremely fast and dynamically, and China has become a major new actor in the global system for the production of knowledge. The total amount of China’s R&D expenditure in 2009 was 58,021 million (a record high). The EC-China S&T Cooperation Agreement was first signed in 1998 and today, the cooperation shows growing dynamism as is demonstrated by the growing numbers of participations of Chinese partners in cooperative research projects funded by FP5, FP6 and FP7.

The establishment in 2009 of the Science and Technology Partnership Scheme between the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology and the European Commission (CESTYS) intended to practically address the launching of joint strategic projects by planning coordinated calls on topics of mutual interest. Coordinated calls can/could also be launched with Chinese partner institutions other than the Ministry of Science and Technology, such as other ministries, the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) etc. The European Commission Directorate General for Research signed with the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) on 26 March 2010 a separate "administrative arrangement on joint projects", allowing both sides to launch joint projects in fields of common interest. Several projects initiated under the external-aid funds of the European Union may also target the promotion of S&T cooperation between Europe and China.

The China–EU S&T Agreement covers all the activities of research, technological development, and demonstration, and the Overview of Europe-China S&T Cooperation (published in 2011 and updated in 2012) highlights successful cooperation regarding research cooperation in animal health and identifies animal health as a key future area in research cooperation. China has signed bilateral agreements with Belgium and Spain, while Denmark, France and Sweden have developed a China focused S&T strategy.

In June 2012, the EU-China cooperation plan on agriculture and rural development was signed. This document also underlines the need for coordinating the research in the field of animal health. The concrete projects identified in the document were: 

  • Use of the Task Force on Food, Agriculture and Biotechnologies platform set up in 2011; 
  • Projects related to animal and crop pests and diseases: with growing international trade, especially with China and climate change, the geography of diseases is gradually changing and renewed efforts on international cooperation are necessary. There are obvious gains for both parties in finding solutions to mitigate animal diseases. Parties can also benefit from sharing information and practices on the possible management of these diseases in case of an outbreak.
  • Projects related to food safety cooperation and animal health: deepen scientific cooperation on improving standards in food safety and animal health regulations.
  • Projects related to food security: making sure that through the EU-China cooperation, food is managed properly and sustainably, and that overall agricultural productivity is increased so that there is enough food in the future to be available for growing populations.