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

Animal health policy in China and the European Union: a need for harmonisation?

Tim Vergne and Shuo Li, RVC and CADC

China has quite a different law and regulation system for animal health policy making compared to the European Union (EU). Why is that? It may partially be due to the unique situation of China having huge animal populations (including half of the global pig population), the very rapid changes happening in their livestock production systems (China’s pig population accounted for only 20% of global production almost fifty years ago), complex political situations, and uneven development between provinces.

For historical and economic reasons, the development of a modern animal health policy in China is much younger than in most EU countries. Therefore the Chinese government, from local to central level, tends to develop its animal health policy according to the specificities of the Chinese context while keeping in mind the policies from the EU that it often considers as a “gold standard”. However, because of the huge diversity of socio-economic contexts between Chinese regions, the Chinese government is very cautious not to translate policies from other countries directly to the Chinese situation as they may not be well suited to particular regions. As a consequence, Chinese animal health policy made by central government may be seen as more generic compared to that of the EU. This lack of specific detail allows enough flexibility for local policy makers to implement policy under local constraints. However, it also leads to various levels of implementation, which can create problems, especially in poorer areas.

Should we try to harmonise specific aspects of the legislation on animal health between the People’s Republic of China and the European Union in order to improve animal health, public health and food security? This question was the topic of a recent study developed as part of the LinkTADs project where scientists and policy makers from the two regions were questioned regarding their views. Results suggested that there could be an important benefit in harmonising animal identification systems and animal movement policies in order to improve trade opportunities and mitigate the risk of infectious animal diseases. Although this harmonisation is perceived as an important potential step forward, it would require long and challenging political procedures that can only be successful if both parties clearly see a reciprocal benefit.