December 2, 2022
Contribute to a written consultation on the Epidemic Preparedness Programme
The members of the PvdD faction have read with interest the Epidemic Preparedness Policy Program.
Members are pleased that this policy program also includes an enhanced zoonotic disease policy. But members still lack commitment to prevention. The Minister himself emphasized in the committee discussion on zoonoses and zoonotic diseases on October 13 that the zoonotic disease policy aims to detect signals in time and intervene if necessary. This is of course very important to prevent the infectious disease from spreading more quickly. But by the time intervention is required, the infection has already set in. Although infectious diseases exist at all times and a new pandemic can never be prevented, it is very important to reduce the chance of this happening. And certainly not unnecessarily increasing the chance of this happening, as is the case in the Netherlands. Members of this government still lack a sense of urgency to address the major risk factors.
The avian influenza virus is one of the zoonotic diseases that, according to various scientists, can lead to a new pandemic. There is great skepticism, not only among members but also among virologists and other scientists, as to whether the warning signals are being heard enough. The avian influenza virus is currently spreading for an unprecedented period of time and farther throughout the world, infecting more and more animals and more species of animals. Also mammals, including humans. Author David Komen pointed out recently in The New York Times that the transmission of the virus from one animal species to another is a warning sign. The more often this happens, the higher the chance that a single infection could lead to disaster. The question is whether these warning signs are being heard and whether people are willing to heed them. How does the minister see this?
In the Netherlands, Thijs Kuiken of Erasmus MC recently pointed out that bird flu is not high enough on the political agenda. Earlier this year, Marion Koopmans also said that putting bird flu on the agenda is complicated, while it’s an ever-present pandemic threat, in our own backyard. How can the eminent scientists who advise the VWS Ministry, among others, point this out over and over again? What will the minister do to change this? Kuiken also noted that the Dutch government still does not treat avian influenza as an animal disease. The main focus remains on the advice of the Animal Diseases Expert Group, which mainly involves veterinary experts. Does the minister admit this? Does the Minister believe that virologists and physicians are currently sufficiently involved in decision-making on the control of the avian influenza virus?
Has an expert consultation on zoonotic diseases been held since the beginning of March, in which more doctors and virologists participated? If so, when and can the Council receive a report on this?
At the expert meeting in March 2022, it was warned of the fact that virus variants more dangerous to humans would come this way in the coming seasons. Ron Fauci also pointed to a different variant this week, the H5N6 avian influenza virus, which has already caused numerous infections in mammals in China, including dozens of people. Thus it seems to be better adapted to mammals. About half of those infected died.
Can the Minister explain how to monitor if H5N6 is spreading further? Is exchanging information about this matter with different countries on the migratory routes of birds sufficient?
During the committee discussion on zoonotic and animal diseases in October, it was announced that research would be conducted on how to prevent the establishment of new enterprises and the expansion of poultry farms in high-risk areas. This is an important recommendation of the Bekedam Commission, among others, but it has also been mentioned many times by other scholars in the past 20 years. This exploration will look at possibilities in the field of spatial planning and at a possible modification of the Animal Code. The members ask the minister about the reality of this exploration.
Does the Minister agree that the creation of legal instruments is not only necessary to control the presence of poultry farms in high-risk areas, but also to influence the establishment and expansion of businesses in other sectors that are known to pose risks? For public health, such as goat farms near residential areas and pig and poultry farms located within a short distance of each other?
Will this Minister make an effort to ensure that a greater range of legal tools is developed for this purpose, so that the threat of the avian influenza virus is not only dealt with?
The members are also asked about the implementation of the proposal adopted by Member Van Esch, which called on the government to implement the recommendations of the Bekedam Committee and
of the RIVM regarding livestock density and distance criteria as frames in county starting beams, as these have significant spatial consequences, will this be dealt with in conjunction with the above exploration?
Finally, the members ask about the situation with regard to the control of swine flu viruses (the movement adopted by Ouwehand / De Groot). Does this also include the presence of avian influenza viruses in pig houses? What would the Minister do with the 143 companies that currently raise pigs and chickens, apart from the many pig and poultry farms that are close together – very close according to RIVM advice? With the current spread of the avian influenza virus, an adequate surveillance system appears to be of great importance. Does the minister share this view? Will there be an enhanced virus surveillance program for mixed farms?