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Infectious diseases, from emergence to pandemics: improving understanding and getting prepared

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has clearly shown how public and animal health, the environment, food supply chains and consumption patterns are closely linked. In this perspective, the early detection of health threats is of primary importance to prevent them from assuming pandemic proportions. This is the role of EFSA and ECDC: to provide risk assessments and scientific assistance in the investigation of disease outbreaks, early identification and prevention of disease outbreaks and their evolution to pandemics, and to rapidly communicate to the general public about the risk posed by biological and chemical threats and related uncertainty. We will explore the extent to which the current EU One Health framework can efficiently identify, prevent and control public and animal health threats and the related risk of scaling up to pandemics. Moreover, we will provide recommendations for sustainable and healthy agro-ecosystems. Expected outcomes are new insights on strategies to follow, data to collect, methodologies and techniques to apply for improved monitoring capabilities and increased preparedness to prevent future epidemics.


The vision of this session is to contribute to shaping and maintaining sustainable agro-ecosystems and healthy communities by a One Health approach, in line with the European Green Deal. At the heart of the European Green Deal, the Farm to Fork Strategy aims to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly. With this in mind, a special focus will be placed on the identification, prevention and control of public and animal health diseases and how they could scale up to become pandemics.

Background – Challenges and opportunities

Pandemics represent the tip of the iceberg of systemic imbalances. The COVID-19 pandemic has made us acutely aware of the interrelation between human and animal health, ecosystems, supply chains, consumption patterns and planetary boundaries.

Climate change and the increasing recurrence of droughts, floods, forest fires and the emergence of new pests are predominantly human-driven events, which may derive from imbalanced food systems that we created. We need to do much more to keep ourselves and the planet healthy and to make food systems more sustainable and resilient (EC, 2020).

To identify drivers that may trigger pandemics, we should therefore focus on what happens during ‘peace time’, and not only in very short ‘war time’ windows (i.e. during pandemics), and we should identify opportunities to improve the sustainability of our food production systems.

With this perspective in mind of identifying opportunities to increase the sustainability of food production systems according to a One Health approach, early detection of emerging health threats is of primary importance to prevent emergencies from taking on pandemic proportions and to optimize control measures. For that purpose, Regulation (EC) 178/2002 requires the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to establish monitoring procedures to screen and analyse information with a view to identifying emerging risks in the fields within its mission. The final aim of the process for identifying emerging risks is to anticipate and possibly prevent public health challenges, thus contributing to preparedness. The process of identifying/characterising emerging risks involves Member States competent authorities, the European Commission, sister EU agencies (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control - ECDC, European Environment Agency - EEA, Europol) and stakeholders.

For events involving direct or indirect risks to public health from food and feed, the Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2019/300 on a general plan for food/feed crisis management strengthens the structures and procedures for crisis preparedness. In particular, the Decision designates crisis coordinators at EU Member State level, promotes the use of information systems for alerts, defines a number of supporting actions by the Commission and European Agencies, and assigns the role of communication and general coordination of Member States in this area to the Commission.

In this context, EFSA and ECDC provide scientific assistance in the investigation of disease outbreaks that may cross national borders. This assessment relies on the data shared by public health, veterinary and food safety authorities via the alert systems and results in the production of technical reports such as joint outbreak assessments, joint scientific opinions, etc. The overall aim of the risk assessment is to provide tools for the early recognition and prevention of disease outbreaks and their evolution to pandemics, and to rapidly communicate to the general public about the risks posed by biological and chemical threats and the related uncertainty.

Overall objective

To ensure that the EU One Health framework in place can efficiently:

  • Identify, prevent and control public and animal health threats.
  • Identify and address the risk of pandemics occurring.
  • Provide insights for sustainable and healthy agro-ecosystems that would contribute both to reducing the public and animal health risks and protecting the environment.

Specific objectives

  • To improve the process of identifying drivers for the emergence of diseases and their spread intrinsic to the increased vulnerability of unsustainable food production systems.
  • To strengthen the One Health framework in terms of early detection of infectious diseases and intervention, to prevent the evolution of disease outbreaks to pandemics through:
    • Coordination of activities with a multidisciplinary approach and via international teams;
    • Management of decision-making processes accounting for uncertainties;
    • Generation, sharing and integration of real-time data and methodologies in the spirit of transparency and collaboration.
  • Effective digital communication by providing timely evidence-based assessments about disease outbreaks and pandemics and the associated uncertainties;
  • Validation of the One Health framework and verification of its effectiveness to protect public health.

Time Duration Talk
09:00 5

Opening and welcome

Carlos Goncalo Das Neves, Norwegian Veterinary Institute (NVI)

Part I - Drivers for disease emergence and spread

Time Duration Talk
09:05 15

A Global Perspective on Eco-Social System Dynamics, Food System Evolution and Pandemic Risk Governance

Dirk Pfeiffer, City University of Hong Kong and Royal Veterinary College, London

09:20 15

Impact of climate change on the presence and geographical distribution of infectious diseases

Aleksandra Kazmierczak, European Environment Agency (EEA)

09:35 10


Carlos Goncalo Das Neves, Norwegian Veterinary Institute (NVI)

Part II - From disease emergence drivers to sustainable farming systems

Time Duration Talk
09:45 20

How sustainable farming systems and more resilient food systems can prevent infectious diseases under One Health

Anna Okello, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)

Part III - ONE health in practice

Time Duration Talk
10:05 20

Tools for and experiences gained with SARS-CoV-2 monitoring and prevention

Paolo Calistri , Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale dell'Abruzzo e del Molise "G. Caporale"

10:25 20

Views from a statistician on infectious diseases in the time of pandemics

Geert Molenberghs, Universiteit Hasselt & KU Leuven

10:45 30

Coffee break

Part IV - Strengthening the ONE health framework, a view to the future

Time Duration Talk
11:15 60

Panel discussion moderated by Carlos Goncalo Das Neves

Ilaria Capua, One Health Center of Excellence at the University of Florida | Angus Cameron, Ausvet Europe | Franck Berthe, World Bank

12:15 15

Wrap up and concluding remarks

Carlos Goncalo Das Neves, Norwegian Veterinary Institute (NVI)

Session Coordinator

Session coordinator
Alessandro Broglia (EFSA)

Session Contributors

Session contributors
Bernard Bottex (EFSA)
José Cortiñas Abrahantes (EFSA)
Sofie Dhollander (EFSA)
Celine Gossner (ECDC)
Valentina Rizzi (EFSA)
Eleonora Sarno (EFSA)
Yves Van Der Stede (EFSA)