Dr Beth Cookson on the 91st WOAH General Session

07 Jun 2024

The World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) is an intergovernmental organisation and the global authority on animal health, welfare and trade. Every year in May, world leaders in this field convene in Paris for its key meeting, the WOAH General Session of the World Assembly of Delegates.

This year is special – it marks the organisation’s centenary and with it, new leadership, aspirations, and future direction. Particularly senior delegations were present throughout week to celebrate this momentous occasion and vote on the organisation’s administrative and technical decisions. This was my first WOAH General Session as Australia’s Delegate and it was an honour to lead our 13-member delegation.

A celebration of the past

The Opening Ceremony kicked off with addresses from WOAH’s leadership and Agricultural Ministers from across the world. Australia’s own Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Murray Watt, delivered a video address. He congratulated WOAH on its centenary and achievements over this time. Minister Watt highlighted that Australia has been a WOAH Member for 99 years and reflected on our many contributions.

Indeed, Australia’s global leadership and excellence is well recognised. This was demonstrated as Dr Mark Schipp, the former Australian Chief Veterinary Officer, was granted the WOAH Gold Medal – the organisation’s most prestigious accolade. The Gold Medal cements his legacy of vast contributions to veterinary science, biosecurity, and antimicrobial resistance, and through leadership roles with WOAH.

Dr Mark Schipp receives the WOAH Gold Medal – image WOAH.

A glimpse into the future

While celebrations recognised WOAH’s past achievements, Members also pondered “Is WOAH ready for the future?”. A forum helped facilitate this by exploring potential future scenarios for animal health and the prospective roles of WOAH and its Members. This inclusive and intergenerational forum shared the diverse insights of attendees, from veterinary students to WOAH senior leaders. Through presentations, future-thinking exercises, and panel discussions, Members conceptualised the opportunities and risks that WOAH could face in its next 100 years.

A key factor in WOAH’s ability to position itself for the future is gaining support from Members to implement comprehensive changes to its constitution – the Basic Texts. WOAH, with funding support from Australia, undertook an independent review of their Basic Texts and the findings were discussed at the forum. WOAH Members understanding the importance of best-practice governance, voted unanimously to pursue these recommendations. WOAH will now look to form a working group which will deliver these changes over several years. With the Basic Text review set to establish the foundations of WOAH into the future, we will seek to join this group’.

WOAH Elections

Elections were held for WOAH’s key technical and leadership positions, including for the head of the organisation – the Director General. Congratulations to Dr Emmanuelle Soubeyran who was successful in this election. I look forward to contributing to WOAH under her leadership. Her tenure will be a significant undertaking with the upcoming Basic Text review and renewal of the organisation’s 5-year Strategic Plan. Her appointment follows her predecessor Dr Monique Eloit’s successful 8-year tenure. Dr Eloit contributed greatly to WOAH and my deep gratitude was clearly shared by other attendees during her final General Session at the helm.

Australia was successful in every candidacy we put toward. Dr John Stratton was elected as a Member of the Terrestrial Animal Health Standards Commission. Dr Ingo Ernst, after 9 years as President, was re-elected as Vice-President of the Aquatic Animal Health Standards Commission, deliberately stepping back to support the succession of new perspectives. These appointments will allow Australia to provide immense expertise to developing high-quality international standards, while granting us foresight into animal health and trade trends that could impact Australia.

I was also pleased to have been elected as Secretary General of the Bureau of the Regional Commission for Asia and the Pacific. This appointment will allow Australia to better determine the collective priorities of our region. This is important to me. Strengthening our region’s animal health controls will improve the wellbeing of all animals and people, and help to protect Australia from significant transboundary animal diseases which are on our doorstep.

With Australia’s close allies, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, elected to Council – WOAH’s pivotal leadership committee – the future looks bright for our collective interests.

International Standards

International standards that are science-based and don’t impose unjustified trade barriers, are crucial to Australia as an exporting nation. It is therefore essential that we work to steer the development and ultimate adoption of such standards.

Australia successfully intervened where standards were problematic. Representing the concerns of our industries, I led 32 WOAH Members in our region to jointly raise issues around standards on antimicrobial usage and Trypanosoma evansi (Surra). WOAH in response, improved the clarity, scope, and scientific rigor of these standards. Other notable standards adopted include those for animal welfare during slaughter and for foot-and-mouth disease.

Dr Beth Cookson raises concerns and possible solutions on WOAH international standards – image WOAH.

Dr Ingo Ernst, as outgoing President of the Aquatic Animal Health Standards Commission, presented over 40 draft aquatic animal standards which were all adopted. All draft standards presented by the Biological Standards Commission were also adopted in the following session.

Dr Ingo Ernst presents aquatic animal health standards for adoption – image WOAH.

Bilateral meetings

My department took the opportunity to meet bilaterally with a wide range of countries in the margins of General Session. The broad and senior attendance made it an excellent forum to pursue our trade and cooperation interests. Important topics included regionalisation to safeguard trade with Japan and the Philippines, and the finalisation of export protocols with Korea and Chile.


The 91st General Session is a significant event in the history and future of WOAH. I am pleased with the successes from this General Session but know that they didn’t occur in isolation. Australia’s strong influence and outcomes were the cumulation of 99 years of excellence and commitment with WOAH. Australians have provided our time and expertise to numerous WOAH expert groups, initiatives, leadership committees, and even as Presidents of the organisation. I am especially grateful for our delegation to the General Session, which included representatives from government, industry, academia, laboratories, and wildlife health. Australia’s respected voice at this international platform is not the Delegate’s alone but rather produced by the strength and expertise within Australia’s animal health system.

I look forward to the 92nd General Session in May 2025.

For the latest updates on the work of the Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer, please follow the social media channels of the Australian Chief Veterinary Officer on Twitter/X and LinkedIn.

Australian delegation at the 91st WOAH General Session – image WOAH.