September 15, 2003


 Veterinary services in a global economy

Posted Sept. 1, 2003

World trade creates new challenges for veterinary services

A pathogen from a foreign country could arrive in a U.S. port within a matter of hours and create a disease outbreak, according to Dr. Cristobal Zepeda, a veterinary epidemiologist at the Department of Agriculture's Centers for Epidemiology and Animal Health.

Dr. Zepeda explored these risks and the impact of world trade agreements on veterinary services during his July 21 session "Challenges veterinary services face in the current world trade environment," at the AVMA Annual Convention.

He described the devastating economic, sociologic, and psychologic impact of animal disease outbreaks on humans. "Animal diseases have multifaceted effects on humans as well as animals."

Following the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in the United Kingdom, there was an increase in the number of farmers committing suicide.

Veterinarians and epidemiologists are being called on to prevent such outbreaks and the associated health and trade implications by conducting disease surveillance and helping countries to achieve disease-free status. Dr. Zepeda said bovine spongiform encephalopathy has been a driving force behind these demands on veterinary services.

"BSE has created a turning point for veterinary services all over the world," he said. "Everybody has to demonstrate freedom from BSE."

The impact of the 1995 World Trade Organization Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) figured prominently in the presentation.

The role of the SPS is to facilitate trade while safeguarding human, animal, and plant health, Dr. Zepeda said. The SPS mandates that participating countries' plant and animal trade restrictions be science-based, nondiscriminatory, consistent, and as nonrestrictive as possible.

Veterinary epidemiologists play a major role in ensuring their countries meet the requirements of the SPS. These individuals help to regionalize their countries' production, so that a disease outbreak in one region does not cause a ban on products from the entire country, Dr. Zepeda said. Following the recent outbreak of exotic Newcastle disease in California, regionalization allowed countries to ban poultry exports from California and other affected areas, instead of banning all U.S. products.

Epidemiologists also harmonize their countries' regulations with the regulations of their trade partners. They ensure that harmonization is measured on the basis of equivalent outcomes and they maintain transparency by ensuring that their countries notify the WTO when regulatory changes are made.

Implementing the SPS has increased the demands on the veterinary services infrastructure worldwide, Dr. Zepeda said.

Unfortunately, as the demands on veterinary services have grown, economic pressures have reduced funding for these departments and resulted in a weakening of veterinary services infrastructure.

Dr. Zepeda suggested that privatizing veterinary services might be one way to meet the new challenges created by the SPS. Several countries, including Mexico, Argentina, and Canada, have privatized some of their veterinary services by accrediting private veterinarians in disease control.

"We need to move away from government-only disease control programs," he said. "A lot of things can be privatized, but there has to be an economic incentive for the private veterinarian."