LESSON 1: NATIONAL & GLOBAL SYSTEMS IN LIVESTOCK ANIMAL HEALTH
At the end of this lesson, you will be able to:
1. Explain how the USDA monitors and controls the worst livestock diseases
2. Understand how the systems are organized for global interactions through our intergovernmental organization, the WOAH
3. Articulate the process of international trade in animals and animal products to ensure safeguarding of health
Veterinary medicine, as we know it in the USA, is strongly oriented toward individual animal medicine, and especially companion animal medicine. When the general public thinks “veterinarian”, the mindset is usually the local practitioner who cares for the family pet, as this is where the majority of our profession resides. This is our “normal”. But when we journey overseas, especially to a developing country, we need to use a different lens. And that lens involves looking at animal health in a global sense, and with a strong orientation toward livestock.
Every nation in the world has a national system for controlling diseases in animals that can impact the economy or the public health. This system is termed “Veterinary Services” (VS) and is spelled out in the documents of the World Organisation for Animal Health, earlier known as OIE. This VS serves as the government body tasked with control of the “diseases of the public good”, which are those animal diseases that can spread quickly, and have great socioeconomic or public health impact. Examples of some of these diseases include foot-and-mouth disease, highly pathogenic avian influenza, peste des petits ruminants (PPR), and African horse sickness, among many others. The WOAH refers to these diseases as
Transboundary Diseases or TADs.
The WOAH used to be called by its French initials "the OIE" or Office International des Epizooties. But starting in 2022 we now use World Organisation for Animal Health Founded as OIE.
As spelled out in all WOAH standards, every robust VS has 3 functional sectors all connected through sufficient surveillance for the "diseases of the public good" - see below...
The system consists of government veterinarians (public servants) who are responsible for ensuring the control of the “diseases of the public good”. And, in every country, the VS has three arms, all communicating and working together in an integrated system of surveillance:
(1) The Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) oversees the whole system, is responsible for making policies, and is the liaison to the OIE.
(2) The Field Force monitors the situation at the field level, and immediately investigates any suspicious “diseases of the public good”.
(3) The Laboratory is vital in analyzing the samples submitted, and accurately confirming or denying the presence of one of the dread diseases.
The US has such a system, but we have become so advanced in our control of diseases, that this system is almost invisible.
Here in the US, we are very fortunate in that many of the “diseases of the public good” have been prevented or eradicated - like classical swine fever and contagious bovine pleuropneumonia. This means our food animals can be more productive, and that our animal products are very desirable in the global marketplace. This results in a greater overall value to the animal agricultural sector, which in turn creates a clear benefit for producers to hire quality animal health care. So, overall, it becomes a virtual circle, with higher animal prices dictating higher quality health care, and the reverse. It is this value which has resulted in the great development of our US private veterinary sector.
There are approximately 10 private veterinarians for every public veterinarian in the US. But the private veterinarians are still connected to our VS through the process of USDA Accreditation. Through this system, every accredited practitioner acts as a proxy of the state and federal governments, promising to report anything unusual, and so serves as the eyes and ears for their federal colleagues. Through their training and commitment to serve USDA goals, these private practitioners are bound to serve as the eyes and ears for diseases of the public good. In many states, it is a felony for an accredited private practitioner to suspect one of the Transboundary Animal Diseases (diseases of the public good) and NOT report it. You could lose your license, or, in a worst case scenario, go to prison.
We care because of ECONOMICS. Keeping our animals healthy, with freedom from most of the TADs, makes our animals and animal products quite valuable from an export standpoint. Approximately 20% of our commodities are exported, and this keeps the industries viable and our supermarket prices low.
If a TAD were to enter the US, and infect livestock and spread to become an outbreak, there would be a glut on supermarket shelves, we would be unable to export, prices would drop, and many producers would go out of business, never to return. Eventually we would find higher food prices and extensive unemployment, both of which of course are damaging to society.
And, as a reminder, the Veterinary Oath entails service to SOCIETY.
Here is where the VS structure, as designated by WOAH, comes
It’s a myth that countries trade with each other, they don’t, it is the CORPORATIONS within two countries that trade with each other. BUT, the VS in every country acts as the GATEKEEPER. So if a corporation in the US wishes to purchase chicken eggs from a company in Country Y, the VS in the US examines the VS in Country Y to determine
just how robust the VS in Country Y is.
For example: How extensive is the surveillance? What diseases do they report? Are they looking for disease? How many veterinarians are working in the surveillance system?
What is the laboratory capacity? And so on. They will look at all the information for Country Y on the WOAH website, and if necessary, the WOAH delegates from the two countries will discuss issues. If everything is “hunky-dory”, the VS in the USA will issue an import permit to the US corporation to bring in those chicken eggs.
Without an import permit, it’s all just omelettes left somewhere else.
But this is not the last we’ll hear of the WOAH as we go through these lessons. The WOAH is the 800-lb gorilla in the room regarding trade and so many other issues in global animal health. It will become your go-to friend for lots of information regarding any potential journey to work in a foreign country.
OKAY, so you are invited to a dinner party at the home of Aunt Sally. She has warned you that some of the guests are very interested that you are in veterinary school and have SO MANY QUESTIONS. You are expecting to be queried about sick cats and flea allergies in dogs, but instead, it turns out these guests are all public health specialists and political science majors. Here are some of the questions you will be asked...
HOW WILL YOU ANSWER?
Write 1-3 sentence answers for each:
1. Who controls the health of animals at the national level in the US?
2. How about other countries, is it the same?
3. And how is trade in animals regulated, who makes sure animals that get traded are HEALTHY?