On the farm
Healthy animals mean healthy products, and private practitioners are crucial in helping to achieve both. Veterinarians provide the needed expertise and services to help their clients ensure the health and welfare of their animals. In addition, they provide guidance and client education to better ensure that medications and other treatments are given appropriately and that the necessary withdrawal times are allowed, both of which are essential to avoid drug residues. Private practitioners are a front line defense in the surveillance, prevention, and treatment of animal diseases; and Accredited veterinarians carry additional training and responsibilities pertaining to regulation of some of these diseases.
In slaughter and processing establishments
Establishments selling their products require inspection, which is provided by federal or state authorities. In both, veterinarians are central to ensuring safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged meat and poultry products.
- Federal inspection is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Products produced under FSIS inspection can be sold across state lines and internationally.
- The May 2011 Final Rule (Federal Register Docket No: 2011-98650) established a voluntary cooperative program under which certain qualifying State-inspected establishments would be eligible to ship meat and poultry products in interstate commerce. FSIS provides oversight and enforcement of the program.
- Products produced at facilities which are state-inspected, but are not part of the FSIS cooperative program, can only be sold within the respective state.
Veterinarians within the FSIS have the expertise to evaluate the health status of animals submitted for slaughter as well as the humane handling of the animals by the transporters and slaughter facilities. FSIS is the largest employer of veterinarians in the U.S. Some of duties and responsibilities of FSIS veterinarians include:
- Surveillance for disease (anti-mortem and postmortem)
- Enforcement of federal meat and poultry regulations, including humane handling
- Condemnation of unacceptable animals, carcasses, and products
- Monitoring for and taking measures to prevent foodborne illnesses
- Testing for drug residues
Corporate veterinarians provide food safety oversight for global food supply corporations. Their positions include oversight of programs and trade of animal commodities.
Federal veterinarians within the Food and Drug Administration also work to provide data to be used by the U.S. Trade Representative in free trade agreement negotiations.
Once products are purchased by consumers, it is up to them to handle, store, and use the products appropriately. The food supply in the U.S. is among the safest in the world; however, all the safeguards and steps taken before the product reaches the store may not compensate for end user errors such as accidentally leaving the products in the car or on the counter for too long, not following label directions, forgetting to wash your hands before or after handling the product, or a host of other possibilities.
Defense of our nation’s herds and flocks as well as our domestic and international food supply is essential. There are many who contribute to the effort, and veterinarians are key. In addition to the private practitioners mentioned above, below are just a few examples of how veterinarians can be involved in the defense of our food supply, herds, and flocks.
- USDA veterinarians, especially with the FSIS and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, assist in the defense of our production animals and food supply. They help in animal disease surveillance, control, and eradication efforts. They are also involved in risk assessments with importing animals or animal products from other countries, inspecting imported animals and animal products, identifying drug residues in animals offered for slaughter, policy development for regulatory oversight of federal animal health and food safety inspection programs, approval of animal vaccines, grant programs for research in animal health and food supply, and much more.
- Veterinarians with state authorities are indispensable in the oversight and enforcement of animal health and food safety programs established within their states as well as in collaboration with their federal counterparts.
- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has the Food, Agriculture, and Veterinary Defense Division as well as recognizes the Food and Agriculture Sector among the 18 critical infrastructure sectors in the National Infrastructure Protection Plan The AVMA is a member of the Food and Agriculture Sector Coordinating Council and participates in meetings of the Critical Infrastructure Partnership Advisory Council
- Air Force veterinarians are involved in preventive medicine, zoonoitic disease control, public health issues, and directing food programs.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) veterinarians assist in food safety outbreaks, disease epidemiology, public health situations such as zoonotic disease epidemics, and importation of certain animals and animal products.
- FDA veterinarians assist in food defense issues such as alerts, recalls, outbreaks, residues, etc.
- Veterinarians who are also legislators or who are involved in government are in a unique position to share their expertise with policymaking constituents to help ensure the continued safety and defense of our food supply, herds, and flocks.
- Veterinarians at universities assist with research to enhance food supply veterinary medicine, production animal health and welfare, and practical advancements which are applicable in the field.