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Animal Health Care in Crisis: Some Say US on Brink of Animal Care, Food Safety Disaster

September 28, 2009

[Source: DTN/The Progressive Farmer; Victoria G. Myers Progressive Farmer Senior Editor]

"I've been waiting 20 years for something to change," says Dr. Paul Terry. "There's been a lot of lip service to the idea of getting more background diversity into this country's veterinary programs, and there have been promises of scholarships and money for those who will return to our rural areas. But it hasn't happened in a measurable way. If anything, we're losing ground." (Progressive Farmer image by Jim Patrico)

"I've been waiting 20 years for something to change," says Dr. Paul Terry. "There's been a lot of lip service to the idea of getting more background diversity into this country's veterinary programs, and there have been promises of scholarships and money for those who will return to our rural areas. But it hasn't happened in a measurable way. If anything, we're losing ground." (Progressive Farmer image by Jim Patrico)

Animal agriculture’s perfect storm is looming. The production-animal veterinarian, now on the front lines of food safety, zoonotic diseases and pandemics, is leaving the business. And when those clinic doors shut, they may never open again.

We’ve already flirted with disaster. A 2002 outbreak of Newcastle disease in poultry in California was contained only after more than 1,700 boots were put on the ground to take eradication measures. Most of those boots belonged to veterinarians working at California’s Department of Food and Agriculture and the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

“In this outbreak we saw that we would be hard-pressed to mount an adequate response to any highly contagious disease if it occurred in more than one region,” says Dr. W. Ron DeHaven, chief executive officer with the American Veterinary Medical Association.

“At one point we had 1,700 to 1,800 people on the ground, most of them federal. If that had spread to another region, we didn’t have the capacity to respond.”

We don’t often think of veterinarians as being important in the event of a pandemic or being crucial to food safety. But today there are some 3,000 federally employed veterinarians, and they are critical to these two areas.

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