The basic requirement for human health is to have healthy food made of quality ingredients.

“Consumers think of the concept of food safety only when they are in a store aisle or when food is already on their plates. However, there are numerous preceding steps that ensure food as a whole or a particular product are safe for consumers and at the prescribed quality level. Everybody is familiar with the farm-to-table principle, or in this case: stable-to-table – the veterinary services oversee this entire process because the preconditions for animal health primarily concern a healthy diet and the conditions those animals live in.”

Mišo Kolarević, director of the Veterinary Specialist Institute in Kraljevo, explains the importance of veterinary institutes in the chain of safe and healthy food.

“The time we live in, and an intensive circulation of people, goods, and animals carries a certain risk. The fact is that both Serbia and Europe have faced diseases in the last 20 years – some that were common in both animals and humans, mostly originating from Africa. Those are the bluetongue disease, the West Nile virus, the lumpy skin disease, the African swine fever – with breakouts still occurring,” explains Kolarević.

He adds that the situation has proven challenging for the veterinary services and that the demand for food has significantly increased in previous decades due to population growth.

“A disease knows no borders, so we must work together to contain contagious diseases. Therefore, we need to help each other and work together, exchange data, and scientific achievements. I am proud of the fact that support and knowledge exchange are no longer one-sided in Serbia, and that we intensively contribute as well.”

Said international cooperation is reflected in the Institute’s participation in the European Union project, Defend, implemented within Horizon 2020, which includes a consortium of 30 laboratories. Control and eradication of lumpy skin disease and African swine fever are the main tasks of this project.

This is an incredibly important task, given the fact that both these diseases have serious consequences for animal health and can sometimes be fatal.

“Eradicating these diseases does not benefit only animals, but it also prevents losses in the livestock business.”

Valuable academic connections

“We became part of the Defend project thanks to our hands-on experience with the lumpy skin disease in 2016 and which was suppressed thanks to our efforts. In two and a half months the entire cattle population in Serbia was vaccinated, and we managed to stop the disease at the EU borders. As a recognition and appreciation of our experience, we joined the project to share our findings with colleagues in Europe,” Kolarević says.

“Our Institute also serves as a national reference laboratory for the lumpy skin disease. Naturally, just as our experience is helpful for our peers that are part of the said consortium, they also put their experience, knowledge, and resources at our disposal. And it is self-explanatory how valuable those material and human resources are for us.”

He believes that cooperation with European experts will remain fruitful in the future, too, and in that context commented on the ongoing EU support for the Veterinary Specialist Institute in Kraljevo.

“This is continuous support process, beneficial for the entire veterinary service, including our Institute. Since 2003, through three major projects, the institutes in Serbia have been granted equipment for safe disposal of waste from laboratories and veterinary organisations, accumulated during the provision of veterinary services, as well as equipment for animal euthanasia and disinfection. A great example of the importance of the equipment is that a large part of it was recently used in containing the African swine fever.”

In addition to European donations, the Institute relies on its funds, as well as on money from the government budget.

Fight against COVID

Bearing in mind that the European Union supported the Institute a few years ago through a donation of equipment and 300,000 euros in grants, the Institute, modernized and reinforced, was able to make a significant contribution to the fight against COVID. The Veterinary Specialist Institute processed samples for COVID-19 for several months, analysing a total of over 13,000 samples.

“This wasn’t the only activity of the Institute during the COVID-19 pandemic. We also acted as partners in a large study conducted at the national level, to identify the variants of this virus that are circulating in our population and submit this information to the health services that monitor the course of the disease, make predictions and impose measures to fight against it,” Mišo Kolarević concludes.

Since 2000, the European Union has donated 230 million euros for agriculture and food safety in Serbia. Raising competitiveness, food safety and public health standards, respect for animal welfare, and environmental standards are the main areas of EU assistance to this sector. IPARD (Instrument for pre-accession assistance for rural development) is the leading programme in this area, within which Serbia has been allocated with 175 million euros for the period 2014-2020, with additional 55 million euros of national co-funding, and it is intended for agricultural producers.