From climate change to antimicrobial resistance, many of the threats to health and well-being facing Europe are linked to unsustainable patterns of production and consumption. The One Health approach recognises that these threats can only be addressed through multisectoral and transdisciplinary collaboration across the domains of human, animal, plant and ecosystem health. The European Environment Agency (EEA) works together with other EU agencies and institutions to support the implementation of the One Health approach in Europe. 

What is the One Health approach?

Europe is facing increasingly complex and frequent threats to health and well-being. Many of these threats are driven by unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, and they serve as a stark reminder that human health is strictly interconnected with the health of animals, plants and wider ecosystems. For example: 

  • environmental pollution is linked to over 10% of all premature deaths in EU Member States, and harmful substances emitted to air, soil and water often accumulate in the food chain as a key source of human exposure; 

  • threats to human health associated with climate change, including heat, floods and climate-sensitive infectious diseases, are already substantial in Europe and likely to grow in the future; 

  • a majority of known and emerging infectious diseases originate from zoonotic pathogens, and the risks posed by such pathogens may increase due to current global rates of biodiversity loss and changes in land use

  • high rates of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which are driven by excessive and inappropriate use of antimicrobials in humans and animals, currently lead to over 800,000 infections and approximately 35,000 deaths every year in the EU/EEA. 

It is now widely acknowledged that no discipline or sector of society can successfully address these issues by acting in isolation. The need for such transdisciplinary and multi-sectoral collaboration in science, policy and society is often referred to as the One Health approach.  

In practice, applying a One Health approach means that all actions to prevent, predict, detect and respond to health threats should take into account the interlinkages between human, animal, plant and ecosystem health. For example, the approach requires researchers and risk assessors to integrate and share knowledge from different disciplines (e.g. veterinary, environmental and human health sciences) when assessing the risks to health posed by certain disease vectors or contaminants. It also requires risk managers and policy-makers to act at source to prevent and mitigate risks to health, for instance by reducing human pressures on the environment.   

The evolving One Health agenda in Europe 

The need to implement a One Health approach to health threats is increasingly recognised at the international level. Among other initiatives, this is attested by the ongoing negotiations on a global pandemic instrument and the efforts of the One Health Quadripartite consisting of the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). These efforts have recently culminated in the adoption of a One Health Joint Plan of Action of the Quadripartite for the period 2022-2026. 

In the European Union, the One Health approach was first endorsed in connection with the issue of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), informing the adoption of the EU One Health Action Plan against AMR in 2017. More recently, policy strategies including the Zero Pollution Action Plan, the Biodiversity Strategy to 2030, the Farm to Fork Strategy and the EU Global Health Strategy have sought to apply a One Health framing when taking action across areas as diverse as chemical pollution, biodiversity loss, food systems sustainability and global health. Lastly, advancing transdisciplinary One Health knowledge also represents a growing priority under Horizon Europe and the broader EU research and innovation agenda. 

The EEA and the role of the environment in One Health 

Although environmental aspects have traditionally been less emphasised in the One Health approach, they are increasingly considered critical due to the role that the environment plays in mediating health outcomes and influencing the emergence and spread of diseases in animals and humans. Including such aspects in disease prevention can thus significantly reduce the incidence and societal costs of health threats. This means that the EEA can support the implementation of the One Health approach by providing data and knowledge about how environmental drivers and pressures impact human health and well-being in Europe. 

For example, as highlighted in a EEA briefing, environmental media such as soil and water may become a reservoir of residues of antimicrobials used in human and veterinary medicine, subsequently promoting the emergence of AMR. Similarly, the European Climate and Health Observatory managed jointly by the EEA and the European Commission contains a wide range of information about health risks associated with climate change, such as the increased suitability of many areas of Europe for the transmission of vector-, water- or food-borne diseases

Importantly, applying a One Health approach to the work of the EEA inherently requires advancing transdisciplinary cooperation between the EEA itself and the other EU agencies that have a mandate and significant expertise in the areas of environmental sustainability, public health and food safety. These are the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and the European Medicines Agency (EMA).  

In some cases, this cooperation is directly mandated by European legislation. For example, the recent regulation on serious cross-border threats to health requires the EEA and other EU agencies to collaborate on rapid risk assessments of threats to public health, including those of an environmental or climate origin. Similarly, the EEA partners with the EFSA and the ECDC (alongside other organisations) in the context of the European Climate and Health Observatory, which it jointly manages with the European Commission.  

 The Cross-Agency One Health Task Force 

For these reasons, the EEA is working with the ECDC, ECHA, EFSA and EMA to ensure that scientific advice by EU agencies is increasingly integrated and aligned with the One Health approach. Since 2023, this collaboration has been further strengthened by the establishment of a cross-agency task force on One Health. In order to support the implementation of a One Health approach within and among the agencies, the task force focuses on five strategic objectives: 

  • Facilitating strategic coordination  

  • Promoting research coordination and One Health-driven agenda setting 

  • Enhancing capacity building on One Health  

  • Strengthening One Health communication andstakeholder engagement 

  • Supporting the development of partnerships through joint One Health activities 

 In November 2023, the five EU agencies published the joint statement ‘Cross-agency knowledge for One Health action’ on the occasion of the ‘One Health for All, All for One Health’ conference organised by the European Commission. The statement outlines the agencies’ shared commitment to the One Health agenda in Europe and highlights a series of priorities for One Health action

In May 2024, the five agencies presented a framework for action which aims to guide the work of the cross-agency One Health task force for the period 2024-2026. 

Further information