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Veterinarians neglect food-safety role, study says
Orlando, Fla. –– Veterinarians are falling short of their original mandate to be guardians of the nation's food supply, and that could pose a security risk in the event of a major food-animal emergency, a recent study shows.
ORLANDO, FLA. –– Veterinarians are falling short of their original mandate to be guardians of the nation's food supply, and that could pose a security risk in the event of a major food-animal emergency, a recent study shows.
Released by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges and the American Veterinary Medical Association, the study evaluated the need of veterinary medicine to take greater responsibility for the animal food supply system, one of the founding duties of the profession.
Because not enough veterinarians are available within state and federal agencies or in rural community practices to respond to major animal-health emergencies, there is a security risk to the modern food system, the study indicates.
Titled "Veterinary Medical Education for Modern Food Systems: Setting a Vision and Creating a Strategic Plan for Veterinary Medical Education to Meet it Responsibilities," the study finds that, with companion-animal services dominating the profession, veterinarians generally have overlooked their responsibility to be the guardians of human health, by ensuring animals are safe and wholesome sources of food and fiber, and to have a complete spectrum of knowledge and skills to protect animal welfare.
It says the profession also must better prepare to respond to future issues arising from growing population, expanding trade practices, cultural changes from immigration, environmental changes affecting land and water and increased expectations for high food quality, animal welfare and ethical treatment.
The study's authors are Daryl Buss, DVM, PhD and University of Wisconsin veterinary school professor; Bennie Osburn, DVM, PhD and dean of veterinary medicine at the University of California-Davis school; Donal Walsh, PhD and UC-Davis professor; and Norman Willis, DVM, PhD and partner in the Professional Development Institute.
The researchers conclude that demands for cheaper and safer food have concentrated agricultural efforts into large production units, severely limiting the involvement of veterinarians in the agriculture industry.
They also say that veterinary schools have not fully informed students of roles veterinarians can play in a rapidly changing food-animal environment.
These factors have led to the lowest level of veterinary involvement in the food-supply chain in 70 years, they conclude.
Three of the authors — Buss, Osburn and Walsh — presented the study findings at last month's North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando.
The role of educators
One solution Walsh offers is for veterinary schools to update recruiting methods. "The general public has little understanding of the full breadth of the veterinary profession. Students think of veterinarians as the individual animal practitioner. We need to increase that understanding," Walsh says.
The study suggests that the extent of opportunity for veterinarians in modern food systems is limited only by their efforts to get involved.
Educating students on areas of opportunity, including executive management in production facilities, niche-market veterinarians focused on animal care in a specific food-supply area, animal-welfare monitors and animal-care providers, will help ensure future veterinarians are pursuing these avenues, according to the study.
With greater understanding of opportunities, recruitment requirements also should be revamped, Walsh says. "Admissions is the gatekeeper of this business. The current focus is to choose the best and the brightest, but this hasn't always met the needs of the industry, especially in food supply. We need to train leaders and teach business savvy," he says. He favors more curriculum change to meet the needs of the food-systems industry.
Audience members suggested a veterinary-education system that does not separate large-and small-animal studies, but covers both in a unified program. Some also suggested an internship before the first year of veterinary school to help students gain experience in areas with which they were not previously acquainted.
The role of the profession
While there is not yet a specific plan for action, the study suggests that veterinarians can better serve the nation's food system by first expanding the vision of the profession.
"Expanding our own internal vision is a prerequisite to expanding the vision of the food systems, and of the public, to the roles veterinarians should play in ensuring animal health and welfare, as leaders in food safety and security throughout the food chain, and as leaders in the management and leadership of modern food systems," the study concludes.
The authors say veterinary medicine must take a leadership position now in order to strengthen its role as protector of food systems in the future.