Europe has faced its fair share of animal health crises, like the outbreaks of Foot and Mouth Disease, Avian influenza in the Netherlands (2003), and African swine fever. But what about the diseases present in many countries that don't grab the headlines? That's where the COST Action Standardizing output-based surveillance to control non-regulated diseases of cattle in the EU (SOUND-control) steps in, making a big impact on animal health.
SOUND-control is all about improving animal well-being, reducing antibiotic use, ensuring safe trade, and easing the burden of animal diseases on society. By standardizing surveillance methods, this initiative allows us to compare how different European countries handle non-regulated cattle diseases.
Dr Inge Santman-Berends from Royal GD in the Netherlands, and the Chair of SOUND-control, shares the successes and challenges of controlling cattle diseases in Europe.
The need to harmonize disease control in European cattle
The Animal Health Law implemented in 2021 categorizes infectious diseases in cattle based on their impact, labeled from A to E. Category A and B diseases have strict control measures, while the others have less strict regulations. Examples of the latter include BVDV, BoHV1, and Paratuberculosis.
European countries have specific disease-control programs tailored to their unique situations for these diseases. Risk profiles also vary in between countries, such as Sweden with low imports and the Netherlands with high density and frequent contacts. For instance, the Netherlands successfully eradicated Leptospirosis in dairy cattle but still faces occasional re-infection due to imports from neighboring countries.
To minimize risks, comparing the disease status of traded cattle from different control programs is crucial. This process, known as output-based comparison, involves assessing results from different programs. The SOUND-control Action aims to harmonize the results generated by these diverse programs.
SOUND-control COST Action: advancing cattle disease control
"I'm amazed at what a group of people can achieve by working together in a COST Action, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to chair SOUND-control." (Dr Inge Santman-Berends, Chair of SOUND-control)
During its four years, this Action provided a comprehensive overview of cattle diseases controlled in at least one European country. The findings were published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science 'Overview of Cattle Diseases Listed Under Category C.D or E' and made accessible through a digital dashboard. Detailed information about disease control in individual countries was also compiled in a handbook with peer-reviewed scientific publications, aiming to encourage more countries to engage in disease control and eradication efforts, ultimately improving animal health and welfare.
Furthermore, the collaborative efforts of SOUND-control led to the development of a digital and Open Access data collection matrix. This matrix facilitated the gathering of quantitative data to support output-based surveillance. Lessons were learned about data interpretation and the need to ensure data collection feasibility across all countries, while keeping in mind their different perspectives. This inclusivity prevented certain regions from feeling ignored or unable to comply, and necessitated a shift in approach and metrics.
Additionally, gaps in output-based surveillance were identified by Action members, decision-makers, industry stakeholders, and farmers across Europe. Examples included variations in calf registration deadlines between countries, which complicates comparisons of mortality data. These identified gaps, along with their implications and potential solutions, formed the basis for a research agenda published at the end of the SOUND-control.
Inge admits that while output-based surveillance is believed to be the future, there is still progress to be made. Developing user-friendly methods and encouraging countries to share meta-data are essential steps for enabling meaningful comparison of program results.
There is still much work to be done to make tools like output-based surveillance available to every country but it's the future. And we want to control as many diseases as we can. Because it is good for animal health and animal welfare, for the climate, for the environment and biodiversity and you name it, it's good for everything."
Dr Inge Santman-Berends, Chair of SOUND-control
To enhance accessibility to information on the disease status of endemic cattle diseases in Europe, a user-friendly Shiny app was developed. The app allows users to search for specific diseases and compare control programs across countries. Recently, the app was updated with new features, including the ability to generate maps for all diseases in the database, and to provide a list of available literature on listed control programs.
Inge believes that the Action results can support safe trade and enable farmers to make informed decisions when purchasing animals based on calculated risks. Ultimately, the implementation of output-based surveillance, even on a small scale, will benefit both animals and farmers.
Legacy of SOUND-control
The impact of SOUND-control goes beyond its initial phase. Some members of the network are now working together in project called DECIDE, which is funded by the European Commission.
The success of SOUND-control has also inspired the creation of two other COST Actions. The COST Action HARMONY focuses on sharing knowledge and methods throughout Europe, while the COST Action BETTER aims to enhance biosecurity measures. These initiatives were initiated by enthusiastic participants of the original SOUND-control Action who wrote their own successful proposals.