OIE developing minimum veterinary education standards

International organization's work intended to increase safety, improve trade
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Dr. Marguerite Pappaioanou thinks strengthening veterinary education across all countries could improve food safety and security and help keep animal diseases from moving across borders.

She said such improvements are vital, given the growing human population worldwide and increasing globalization of food supplies.

Dr. Pappaioanou, executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, was among about 400 participants at an October 2009 conference of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) that examined veterinary education and model standards. Meeting in Paris, the international group drafted 28 recommendations for developing veterinary education worldwide and helping developing nations meet minimum standards.

Beef cattle in a chute
Beef cattle are moved for shipping at a loading dock in Florida.

An ad hoc group of veterinary authorities, including AVMA CEO W. Ron DeHaven, will discuss four of those proposals during a meeting June 29-July 1 in Paris. The group will consider how to establish basic standards, provide food safety and guard against diseases, improve public perception of veterinary services, and support continuing education.

Dr. DeHaven, who was one of the presenters at the October meeting, said the AVMA supports establishing a minimum standard for veterinary education, as no international restrictions currently exist to prevent anyone from opening a veterinary college and calling the graduates veterinarians.

"If somebody in another country is certifying that animals or animal products meet certain requirements, we have no assurance that the person making those certifications knows what they're talking about," Dr. DeHaven said.

Such a standard—particularly one that identifies needed day one competencies—for veterinarians working in national veterinary services provides assurance that those people have "the educational background to make those certifications with a degree of confidence," he said.

Dr. Pappaioanou praised the OIE for taking needed actions, given the risks posed by foreign animal disease through food trade. Improving veterinary training globally could reduce that risk and increase food safety for all countries by reducing disease prevalence in animals shipped for trade.

But she said it's not yet clear what impact the final education recommendations, standards, or models would have.

Dr. Pappaioanou noted that there has not historically been a global authority on veterinary education, and OIE representatives are largely chief veterinary officers rather than officials overseeing education in their respective countries. Still, she said, the World Trade Organization is looking to the OIE for veterinary education standards as more countries intensify agriculture and seek export markets for food.

AAVMC members favor development of a model curriculum, rather than a core curriculum standard, to provide less prescriptive guidance, she said.

Dr. DeHaven said the AVMA wants to avoid confusion between a minimum standard and the AVMA's gold standard for veterinary accreditation.

"We'll raise the bar for what it takes to be called a veterinarian without lowering our standard in the U.S. and Canada," Dr. DeHaven said.

Some cross-border acceptance of veterinary degrees could be implemented regionally in areas that have comparable veterinary health systems and societal needs, Dr. DeHaven said. But the AVMA is working to avoid global recognition of a diploma.

OIE officials have published online the summaries of presentations given during the October conference. A summary of the presentation by Dr. Jan Vaarten, executive director of the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, indicates the limited European Union legislation on veterinary education is focused on free movement of veterinarians and access to the profession, rather than training standards.

Dr. Vaarten's summary states that lack of encouragement to provide adequate veterinary education across Europe jeopardizes the functioning of veterinary services, threatens public and animal health, and hinders European veterinarians who apply for work outside the EU.

Dr. John Clifford, OIE delegate from the United States and the deputy administrator for the Veterinary Services program in the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, thinks the OIE recommendations on veterinary education will positively affect U.S. veterinarians and their veterinary education as well as help address animal health and public health issues. The OIE recommendations are aligned with changes started more than 10 years ago to strengthen the National Veterinary Accreditation Program, and they will give accredited veterinarians better tools to meet U.S. disease prevention, preparedness, and response challenges.

The USDA is restructuring the NVAP to create two categories of accreditation, add continuing education requirements, and require renewals every three years. Veterinarians who do not apply under one of the new categories will lose their accreditation Aug. 2.

The OIE proposals will add safeguards for U.S. consumers of imported food and for disease control by expanding trade partners' animal health and public health infrastructure, Dr. Clifford said. And the USDA-APHIS is working to improve domestic infrastructure through the updated NVAP and the Veterinary Services 2015 initiative, through which the agency is adapting its mission, role, and programs.

"In a global marketplace, the infrastructure of our trading partners is important, and we want those infrastructures as well as the U.S. infrastructure to be able to address new threats, opportunities, and societal expectations," Dr. Clifford said.

The Veterinary Services 2015 initiative includes a strategic plan that emphasizes preventing and responding to diseases, expanding the veterinary health mission to include public health concerns, and expanding certifications of animals and animal products to meet trading partners' concerns. The agency plans to reevaluate rules and regulations to make sure they scientifically address state and industry needs.

Recommendations regarding regional integration of veterinary services and regional licensure would have indirect implications for the U.S. through the potential impact on trading partners' infrastructure, Dr. Clifford said.

The OIE proposals include language about developed nations helping developing ones improve their veterinary services, and Dr. Clifford said APHIS plans to continue providing such aid. He noted that the agency, AAVMC, AVMA, and Iowa State University collaborated to provide an online Initial Accreditation Training program for U.S. veterinarians that, once translated, will be distributed to veterinary colleges in Spanish-speaking countries.

Starting July 1, 2011, veterinarians applying for USDA accreditation will need to have completed the initial training, which is being incorporated into regulatory and foreign animal disease curricula at some U.S. veterinary colleges.

Dr. Pappaioanou said some countries developing their poultry and livestock industries would benefit from international standards that would build their capability to improve the health of animals for domestic use and export. She said a trend toward consolidation and intensification of farming worldwide is another reason to consider global standards.

Dr. DeHaven said the OIE efforts could help some countries develop self-sustaining infrastructure that would be conducive to trade in agricultural products. Such efforts would be more effective than direct aid, he said, comparing the situation to giving a man a fish or teaching him to fish.