Veterinarians Are on the Front Lines of Food Safety

By Timothy Ogilvie, Dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine at St. George's University
March 24, 2017

When many people think of veterinarians, they picture a medical professional who cares for animals. But vets play a crucial role in human health as well — particularly when it comes to keeping our food safe.

Indeed, large animal veterinarians – those who treat animals raised to produce food such as meat, milk and eggs – are on the front line of defense in protecting our food supply from animal-borne and transmissible diseases, known as “zoonotic” diseases.

Livestock animals are susceptible to many diseases that can be transmitted to humans through the food supply.[1] In fact, in poor countries, a quarter of all livestock animals acquire diseases that can cause gastrointestinal illnesses in humans.[2]

And in an alarming number of cases, zoonotic diseases can be life-threatening for humans. Just consider that, every year, over two million people world-wide may die from the most common animal-borne illnesses.[3]

Outbreaks of food-borne illness are especially common in developing nations with inadequate sanitation systems.[4] But developed nations are also at risk. For instance, in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports over one million cases of salmonella infection in people annually.[5]

Consider a recent episode involving one prominent restaurant chain. In 2015, contaminated food from the chain led to outbreaks of gastrointestinal illnesses caused by salmonella, E. coli and norovirus.[6] These diseases ultimately infected some 200 customers and employees across nearly a dozen states.[7]

Were it not for veterinarians, these sorts of outbreaks would be far more common. Everywhere from farms to slaughterhouses and processing plants, vets are responsible for preventing, diagnosing and treating illnesses that affect livestock species such as cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs.[8]

Among other things, these veterinarians conduct animal health exams, administer vaccinations take laboratory specimens, and undertake food safety research to keep livestock healthy and free of disease.[9]

Here at St. George’s University, we’re committed to preparing future generations of veterinarians and public health professionals for careers in food safety. To this end, our veterinary students practice a One Health philosophy that recognizes the many connections that exist between human health, animal health, and the environment. We also offer a specialized Masters of Science degree as well as dual degrees in Veterinary Medicine and Masters of Science or Masters of Public Health through our School of Veterinary Medicine that focus on many areas of public health and food safety. [10]

So, the next time you enjoy an omelet, a hamburger, or even a glass of milk, remember the vital work veterinarians are doing to keep humans safe and healthy.











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