Saturday, October 15, 2011
While I normally blog about art and agriculture, I wanted to take the opportunity to join the worldwide blog conversation today about food. It's a great topic for all of us since we all eat, regardless of where it may have come from. In my role as a large animal veterinarian, food safety is a part of my focus in working with farms.
How is a veterinarian involved with the safety of the food you eat?
Here's a little of what I do in my day that helps keep the beef and dairy products you buy safe:
1. Whenever I prescribe ANY medication for use in a food producing animal, I have to include the time that meat or milk products from this animal cannot be used for human consumption. This includes antibiotics, hormones, and other supportive products. (And by the way, those times aren't my best guess. They have been established by the Food and Drug Administration.)
2. I work with my farms on developing plans to control disease and sickness on farms without needing to use antibiotics. This includes using effective vaccine strategies (using the best vaccines at the best times) and the latest in technology to diagnose diseases. This allows me to confirm disease diagnoses quicker and institute strategies to prevent the disease in the first place.
3. I show people where and how to give the medications as to reduce the risk that not only will the medication cause damage to that future piece of steak, but will also stay in the system longer to cause a medication residue.
4. While every antibiotic used in a food producing animal must have a withdrawal time listed, that is simply not enough to be sure everything is 100 percent safe. I have worked with my farm clients to show them how to use on-farm testing methods to make sure animals returning into production are free of antibiotics and can have their products consumed safely.
5. It's important that if I diagnose a disease on a farm that has a human food safety danger (like Salmonella or E. coli), everyone needs to know all precautions that need to be taken to not only stop the spread, but prevent the sickness of people both working on the farm and product consumers.
6. When it comes to looking at a herd of animals, I also find it a part of my job that I identify risks to operations and how to prevent them from causing a food borne illness. For example, as much as wild birds are great to look at, they can be the source of Salmonella outbreaks. We take precautions to keep these animals from mingling in key areas of farm animals.
7. I'm also involved in helping to control diseases of risk to human health that can be passed through the food through government surveillance programs. This includes testing and vaccinating against Brucellosis and testing for Tuberculosis, both of which can be contracted by people who eat infected products from an animal carrying these diseases.
These are just a few of my duties. Some other responsibilities of veterinarians and food safety include:
1. Veterinarians serving as meat inspectors in federally inspected meat processing plants to make sure only healthy animals enter the food supply.
2. Veterinarians in the armed forces inspecting food to make sure it is safe for troops to eat.
3. Veterinarians serving in positions involved with human and public health to investigate food borne illnesses and disease outbreaks potentially coming from an animal source.
I'm proud to be a (small) part of keeping the food on your plate safe and healthy.