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Interview with World Veterinary Association

Dr. René Carlson is the President of the World Veterinary Association (WVA). WVA represents around 500,000 veterinarians around the world through its member associations and is a broad global veterinary community that offers advocacy, support, and education with a variety of partners for focused global veterinary issues.

Dr. Carlson sat down with HealthforAnimals to discuss zoonotics, collaboration in agriculture and why animal health matters.

In fact, Dr Carlson had so much great information that we had to split it into two interviews. Part 1 is below and part 2 will be published in our July 2017 issue.

Why does animal health matter? 

“Animals connect us all both directly and indirectly; whether we keep animals for companionship, rear them for food production, or if our only connection with them is as part of our daily diet. 

“The impact that animals have on our lives is shifting constantly based on a number of factors, such as the effect of globalized food production, the ‘humanization’ of pets and the risks associated with the global transit of animals.” 

What’s the biggest health challenge facing our world today? 

“Rather than just one, I would say that we face two big challenges above all. First, is the risk of spill over of animal disease to humans – zoonoses. Urban sprawl, globalized food production and loss of animal habitat all contribute towards the risk of zoonotic disease spreading, risks that have been highlighted most recently with the outbreaks of Ebola and Avian Influenza.

“Second, is the issue of food security, and more specifically, the proper distribution of safe, nutritious food. Animal food products impact most people in the world and there’s a great need and dependency on animal sourced protein, whether it’s milk, meat or eggs. Good animal health, husbandry, and medicines are essential to ensure that we can meet the growing global demand, understanding any medicines used in animals to restore animal health are used responsibly to assure safe food products and no contribution to further development of antimicrobial resistance.

Global challenges like zoonotic disease can only be overcome when animal health professionals are being properly utilised. Do you think this is happening and what are the biggest barriers to improvement? 

“It’s frustrating that veterinarians face widely different sets of animal medicines regulations and standards across nations. This problem affects not just how medicines are used. In nations without adequate manufacturing practice standards, it affects quality, production and distribution – we need to work to one standard. 

“The WVA looks to work with and support policy makers at a local level to try to improve the standard of regulation and education to ensure that those tasked with animal welfare are properly trained. In addition, veterinary and human health collaboration is vital, as well as proper oversight of antimicrobials and their responsible use.”

Many people don’t realize that by treating animals, veterinarians also protect people. Could you explain this connection? What types of animal diseases threaten us?

“Two thirds of all infectious human diseases come from pathogens that originate in animals. Spill over to humans is a considerable global concern. At present, the influenza virus is the biggest focus for world health organisations – with the primary concern being the incidence and possible exposure to humans from origins of the disease in swine or birds.

“Avian influenza, in particular, is a focus point. The fact that influenza viruses are so prone to mutation, coupled with the considerable demand for poultry worldwide and wild bird migration flyways, means that the risk of spillover to humans is a much greater threat and that is being closely watched. 

“The poultry market is now a massive global industry, with birds farmed for food consumption across the world. This becomes an issue when we look at how birds are being raised and produced, particularly in many Asian and rural, developing markets where the close proximity between birds and human means there is a greater chance of disease spreading between birds and then mutating to a human form.”

What is the role of policymakers in helping to improve animal health?

“Put simply, policy makers, in developing nations in particular, must better utilise the experience and expertise of veterinarians. We have a high-level complex professional veterinary medical education, and a considerable level of expertise, but in many countries professionals are being under-utilized across the value chain, from policy-making and food production to companion animal care. 

“Improved collaboration between all parts of the chain, from veterinarians, food producers, legislators and consumers is key to ensure we minimize the risk of disease spread. We assume in the developed world that our food is safe because it’s subject to rigorous regulation. But in developing countries, this tight regulation is rarely the case, and in fact there is a huge discrepancy between developed and developing world practices and standards. Veterinarians must work with policy-makers to ensure greater emphasis on improving standards globally in order to minimise the risk of food borne diseases and improve animal health.”

And what of the role of veterinarians and farmer? Could they work more closely to manage and treat disease?

“Sometimes you need a crisis to understand the benefit of collaboration. There are few better examples of this than the devastating impact of the 2015 outbreak of Avian Influenza in the USA that coincided with the seasonal migration of waterfowl.  This event saw the culling of 49.5 million chickens and turkeys at a cost of 1 billion USD in the effort to control the outbreak and continually monitor for evidence of any mutation that could affect humans.

“On the whole, collaboration between veterinarians and farmers could be a lot better. Veterinarians must also become better at selling the value they can offer to farmers; from consulting on herd health, nutrition, responsible medicine use and advising on practices to improve animal health and productivity.