24 May 2010

OIE General Assembly Address

Dear President, Dr Messuti; Director General, Dr Vallat; Ministers, Chief Veterinary officers and distinguished delegates of the OIE.

It was for me a particular personal pleasure to accept the invitation of Dr Vallat to address you all here today.

Taking the example from my late father King Hussein of Jordan, in my life to date I have, like so many of you here today, chosen to be in the service of achieving the global public good.

I have been fortunate enough to have had involvement in many projects that aim to bring about improvement in areas such as public health, humanitarian support, education and development, training and cultural preservation.

I am currently privileged to be a member of the International Olympic Committee, an organisation with objectives all based around the development and use of the celebration of sport as a means of creating a better, fairer, more healthy and peaceful world, leaving a strong legacy wherever, and whenever, Olympic sports take place.

The OIE seeks to meet objectives that are more important now to the world than ever. It seeks to ensure there is transparency in the global animal disease situation, using best science, for the benefit of all its members. And to safeguard food supplies and the development of world trade in animals and their products that is fair and safe for all, ensuring the necessary veterinary infrastructure is in place to support that need with appropriate standards of animal welfare. And all this against the background of climate change, an increasingly large and hungry global population, social and geographical change, and the emergence of fast-spreading disease.

As President of one of the OIE's sister organisations, the FEI - the international governing body for equestrian sport - and through my involvement with all of the other projects I have touched upon earlier, I am uniquely placed to see that many of the aspirations of what at first seem to be differing organisations and initiatives, are actually very much linked. If we are indeed all striving to have the effect of a better, healthier, fairer and more peaceful world - both in old and new worlds, north and south, rich and poor - then so they should be linked.

The task ahead of us all is huge, and working in isolation will not be enough to deliver what is needed. The power of synergy is very clear.

I also feel that I have had always had both a close public and personal interest in animal health. Coming from the Middle East and having had the opportunity to travel widely through many developing and underdeveloped countries, I have watched how farming practices and the trade and use of animals have changed. How there can be greater levels of animal health with greater productivity and with improved welfare standards, and how better veterinary services and standards have brought about improved public health and economic change for all.

The OIE, FAO and WHO concept of “One World, One Health” is a further recognition that the only way to prevent the many hazards confronting human and animal health is to adapt the systems of health governance at world, regional, and national levels in a harmonised and coordinated manner. That effort is not complete, but it is underway, and having made the above observations on my travels, I ask you all to continue the effort to achieve this desperately needed goal and to continue this week to demonstrate the commitment to further strengthening the frameworks provided by the OIE and the WHO.

The alleviation of world poverty, developing trade and reducing the effect of old, and new-and-emerging diseases is very much in the hands of the OIE, and as representatives of your governments - ultimately in your own hands. It is indeed the time for reasoned, consistent approaches by all, based on the principles of an international solidarity and taking the lead from the standards created by the OIE - which brings you all here for this General Assembly, to develop and agree further.

Sport demands that, above all else, it is conducted with fair play and with consistency in decision-making in the application of rules and regulations. The FEI is currently managing an explosion in the numbers of international equestrian events and therefore an increased level of cross-border movement of equines. This reflects the rate of development of many countries, the huge economic value of the industry that is now associated with the horse, and is a natural outcome of what we all now call globalisation.

So, much like the organisation I represent here today, the OIE also seeks to bring about consistency and a level playing field for all its members and leading firstly on uniform standards. It strives to provide a true and fair representation of the animal disease status of a member state and to promote the application of a simple consistent science and risk-based approach - removing unnecessary and unfair barriers to trade based on wrong assumptions, impractical demands or simply outdated sanitary requirements that bare no relation to the actual current situation.

What hope can there be for a successful coordinated and fair approach when there may be import requirements that are neither, and the effect of which is simply to discourage overall improvements for all? What encouragement does that give for others to follow, if unjustified cautious policies are allowed to exist and the science beneath the surface cannot be explained?

Many of the successful initiatives led by the OIE over the last few years have produced commonly understood legal frameworks, common standards and very clear successes within the principle of international solidarity. A very public example is in the area of prevention or eradication of the recently perceived threat of a pandemic flu outbreak.

The FEI is not just a normal international regulator. Through the rapidly expanding interest in the horse around the globe - the FEI disciplines and racing being the two main examples - there have been associated levels of job creation, greater opportunities for the diversification of rural economies, a greater understanding of maintaining the health of animals, and a healthier lifestyle for our young people - with increased levels of government revenues from taxation.

At this level we truly understand the need for the best veterinary standards. The horses that compete at FEI events are probably some of the most inspected and checked animals in the world, with over 1,000 veterinarians trained to work at FEI events, preventing welfare issues, ensuring the fitness of horses to compete by multiple inspections, and of course looking for any sign of disease. If you are going to the expense of moving a horse across borders to compete, then pre-travel checks and inspections by both private and state veterinarians immediately limit the possibility of a sick horse being transported across any border. Simply - if you want to compete successfully at the FEI level, the international level, then it is very much in the interests of the competitor to have a well looked after horse that is fit and healthy.

From your perspective as representatives of members of the OIE, we in international equestrianism are your willing stakeholders and partners. Like the OIE, the equine industry does not want disease to disrupt, and when it does, it wants to competently play its part in ensuring that it is rapidly dealt with. The international industry understands that there is a need for necessary measures, but again we fully agree with the objectives of the OIE and of this week, that sanitary measures such as the required testing and period of quarantine are applied in a reasoned manner and proportional to the risk. In a survey of our more than 130 member Federations, I have to report to you that one of their greatest problems is disproportionate or outdated import requirements and, in particular, that often horses had to wait for days at border posts for simple clearance. This is a clear contradiction to the principles of fairness and good welfare.

For the last four years, we have been working on a single solution for everyone, one that will protect the sport and take it to new levels. Ease of transport is key to the success and continuing development of equestrian sport. Yes, we must maintain the restrictions that prevent disease-spread, but we need to make it easier for our athletes to compete. Let us seize the opportunity now that people are returning to nature because of the recession by making equestrian sport more accessible.

If we can find solutions to the issues of transport and quarantine and allow our competition horses to move across borders without becoming entangled in bureaucratic red tape then we can remove the elitist image of equestrian sport. It truly can be horses for all and, if we can achieve that, it is a service to our whole community.

In order to meet our overlapping objectives with your governments, we must all continue to work with the OIE to ensure that decisions on the trade and movement of all species, including equines, is based on transparent fact.

The facts have not always been clear, and so the OIE will shortly be taking the significant step of introducing a mechanism to declare country freedom from African Horse Sickness. By completing the relevant surveys and tasks, a member will be able to give a much more definite picture of the structure and size of the local horse industry, the types of disease present, the approach of the state Veterinary Services to these diseases, and the plans that are in place to limit disease spread.

No-one wins when importation policies are based on over-suspicion. The OIE country freedom approach, in this case for an equine disease, will lead to the application of a purely factual and science-based approach.

Several new technologies are also poised to assist in making the detection of diseases at an early stage much faster and more certain - sometimes even by the side of the animal without having to move samples to a laboratory, thereby immediately and substantially reducing the risk of disease-spread.

So I close by saying that I wish you a very successful General Assembly. What the OIE is seeking to do is important - no it is vital - for the world and the challenges the world is facing, to ensure the earth can provide enough protein for its people, and be a healthier place.

However, we must all recognise that whilst objectives and aspirations are important, they must go beyond this General Assembly. It is the delivery of those objectives that is key.

Thank you.