One Health legislation: Contributing to pandemic prevention through law



The COVID-19 pandemic and other emerging infectious diseases, as well as the continuing threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), are reminding us of the close connections between human, animal and environmental health and the urgent need to address them in a holistic manner. Among newly discovered or emerging infectious diseases (EIDs), 75 percent are zoonotic (i.e. transmitted from animals to humans) (Taylor, Latham and Woolhouse, 2001). The unregulated expansion of livestock farming encroaches upon pristine habitats, pushing domestic animals, humans and wildlife into closer and more frequent contact, creating the same tinderbox for disease in animals as they do in humans (FAO, 2011a). Deforestation and other land use changes have an important part in the emergence of disease (Wilcox and Ellis, 2006).

To address these increasing and inter-linked health challenges, while ensuring the biological integrity of the planet, it will be important to strengthen inter-disciplinary and cross-sectoral approaches that address not only disease prevention but also biodiversity conservation, climate change, and sustainable development overall (Wildlife Conservation Society, 2019). The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular SDG 3 (“Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”) and SDG 15 (“Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss”) provide a unique opportunity to break the silos and to work in a coordinated manner on human, animal and environmental health. “'One Health' is an approach to designing and implementing programmes, policies, legislation and research in which multiple sectors communicate and work together to achieve better public health outcomes” (WHO, 2017). FAO is committed to promoting One Health in the food and agriculture sectors and to the protection of the human rights to health and to a healthy environment. This involves coordination across various sectors, ranging from plant and animal health, food safety, nutrition and biodiversity, to climate change, forestry and environmental protection. It also requires embedding the principles of gender equality, economic and social responsibility into FAO normative and operational capacity development activities. To this end, FAO closely collaborates with the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), other UN System entities and international organizations.

Legislation is a powerful means by which countries and regional organizations translate the One Health objectives into concrete, sustainable and enforceable rights, obligations and responsibilities, paving the way for inter-sectoral collaboration. Legislation forms the backbone of appropriate frameworks aimed at preventing the introduction and spread of pests and diseases. It can contain the key regulatory controls within a sector, establish linkages among the various areas relevant for One Health and facilitate a coordinated implementation by different authorities, all of which are important to achieving the goals of One Health.

The implementation of the One Health concept requires inter-sectoral governance mechanisms at the global, regional and national levels. All relevant institutions must work closely together, each contributing their expertise, in order to formulate the most appropriate regulatory responses, minimize gaps and clarify conflicting or overlapping mandates. This is all the more so in emergency situations, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, where emergency needs expedited decision-making, implementation and enforcement. Only with well-established coordination mechanisms, where each institution knows its role, will a government be able to react with due consideration of all the interests and areas involved.

This brief identifies some of the legal areas involved in One Health in the food and agriculture sectors. It analyses the impact of each area on One Health and how laws, regulations and institutions can contribute to the creation of appropriately designed emergency preparedness mechanisms to prevent, respond and control emerging pests, disease outbreaks and related health challenges.