FS. What are the most challenging issues in animal health right now and how is the industry addressing these areas?
PL. Although the animal health industry has regained growth momentum and is, today, a very healthy industry – with most of our IFAH member countries enjoying the benefits of that growth – it is the companion animal business that is the primary driver. In the last few years, the livestock market has been stagnant, impacted by continuous outbreaks of disease and unclear regulatory environments that have limited innovation. As a result, our most challenging issue is to be able to bring together a more predictable regulatory environment, based on science, which allows us to get back into developing major innovation. Many members of our industry are making statements that they are willing to invest in livestock R&D, but over the next few years our success will depend in large part on how the regulatory environments respond. That response, in turn, will determine whether the animal health industry will be allowed to be innovation-driven or of necessity focus on generic products and, over time, perish.
FS. You say IFAH’s goal is to promote a science-based regulatory framework, but as some countries have conflicting views on animal health, how can policies be devised that are workable for the industry on a global scale?
PL. Historically, human health regulatory frameworks have automatically been imposed on the animal health industry. The first important initiative for IFAH is to help governments and authorities around the world understand the significant differences and social drivers of these two industries; if we can achieve that new understanding, then we will be able to develop a regulatory framework that really understands and is aligned with the drivers specific to animal health. Also, we have very strongly supported the VICH initiative [the International Cooperation on Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for the Registration of Veterinary Medicinal products], which is highly successful and has allowed for mutual recognition of regulatory guidelines and frameworks in certain areas. Primarily at this stage, we have been working to bring European, US and Japanese authorities together to help each side understand the other’s perspective, so a common ground can be reached that is acceptable to both parties and to industry. Based on this framework, which has extended beyond Europe, the US and Japan to other Asian markets, Canada and Latin America, we intend to expand this to still more countries and to achieve the same level of success.
FS. You also mentioned the key role innovation has to play in the animal health industry. What promising new developments are you seeing?
PL. The industry at large has had very few product introductions in the livestock segment. At Pfizer, we have been very committed to changing that by launching several innovations. For example, we have launched Draxxin, which is a long-acting antibiotic that can be applied once to control disease, rather than several injections having to be used over several days (which leads to problems of compliance and stress for the animals).
There is also a major need for new anti-parasitics, as the compounds used today were introduced into the market 25 years ago and there is an increasing danger of resistance. The same applies to anti-bacterials, yield enhancers and, in fact, almost every area of livestock health. Again, it all comes back to being able to make predictable research investment decisions based on science.
FS. Are authorities and consumers worrying more about anti-microbial resistance? For example, the EU last year decided to ban the use of antibiotic growth promoters in animals…
PL. As an industry, we fully support science-based decisions and we would expect that each product should be evaluated from a science perspective before it is decided whether or not they should be allowed to enter or to remain in the market. We do not agree with or support blanket decisions that are not based on science. What we have seen is that by banning them society is forced to accept a higher economic cost for production and for feeding its human population, without necessarily achieving the desired reduction in resistance. Although you can do that in a small, contained area such as Scandinavia, it is yet to be seen how Europe at large will react and absorb the incremental cost.
FS. Are there any truly viable alternatives to antibiotic growth promoters? What repercussions will their use have on industry?
PL. There are no complete alternatives. The ones that exist today in industry are partial and specific to certain conditions when rearing the animals. We believe in scientific ways of finding replacements to antibiotic growth promoters but, again, we need a regulatory framework that will allow these new technologies to be developed and come to the market.
Potentially, the environmental impact of using alternatives to growth promoters also generates economic problems. What we see is that this will favour the cost advantage in areas that continue to use them, to the detriment of Europe and other areas that have decided to ban them. In particular for the developing world, such additional costs are at odds with their most important need, which is feeding their populations.
FS. What other major concerns do you think consumers have regarding the safety of their food, from farm to fork?
PL. The rapidly growing organic sector still represents a very small proportion of production in the world. The economics of it are such that you get into multiples of cost to feed populations. Even in the developed world, it will not become a mainstream, major segment and this is even more pronounced in developing parts of the world where cost is fundamental. Our industry believes that there is a way of producing animals where we can achieve optimal cost, while at the same time assuring safe, high-quality food for the population through better regulatory policies.
Bioterrorism and contamination related to agriculture and livestock production are another major area of concern, not so much for the consumer but for governments, who have the responsibility of protecting their populations. Without question, bioterrorism is high on the agenda of most developed nations. I believe it is a real issue and will get more attention regarding ways of anticipating, responding and dealing with potential threats. The threats are a lot more acute in the developed world, primarily in the US and Europe. However, the need to come up with ways and processes to respond to threats is applicable to the whole of the developing world too.
FS. Overall, in which direction would like to see the animal health industry progress over the next few years?
PL. Members of IFAH see a positive environment in the animal health industry over the next few years. This will allow us to continue to invest in research and serve our customers and markets around the world in an increasingly better way. Secondly, we are going to work very hard on the initiatives I have already identified – improving the regulatory frameworks and making sure they are based on science. Within that, the most important initiative will be the work we will conduct to differentiate and sensitise governments and authorities to the differences and drivers of our industry versus other industries. Also, translating that into the required changes and improvements on the regulatory front will enable our industry to improve productivity, quality and innovation, and also to make an effective response to the continuing outbreaks of disease that we are experiencing.
IFAH and the animal health industry are confident that we are well-positioned to leverage our technical and financial resources to develop innovative new products to meet livestock producers needs. We’re also optimistic that we’ll be able to work with regulatory authorities to create a more predictable and science-based approach that enables us to better meet a growing world population’s demand for safe, wholesome and affordable meat.