Veterinary Public Health and Feed and Food Safety (VPH)
FAO, WHO and OIE define Veterinary Public Health (VPH) as "The contributions to the physical, mental and social well being of humans through an understanding and application of veterinary science". Veterinary public health contributes to public health through the knowledge, skills and resources of veterinary science. This generally relates to the understanding, prevention and control of zoonotic diseases and food safety issues. The scope of VPH is clearly multidisciplinary, involving not only veterinarians in public and private sectors, but also other health and agriculture professionals, communication experts and scientists as well as paraprofessionals. A interdisciplinary team approach to problem solving, research, control programmes and communication is essential for the improvement of human health in a significant and sustainable manner.
Ensuring safe food is paramount for the protection of human health and for enhancement of the quality of life. Safe food plays an important role, whether domestically produced and consumed, imported or exported. In addition, the production of safe food represents an opportunity for income generation and market access. Over the last decades, the food chain approach has been recognized as an important step forward to ensure food safety from production up to consumption. This approach requires the commitment of all players in the food chain, involving producers, traders, processors, distributors, competent authorities as well as consumers.
The role of animal feed in the production of safe food is also recognized worldwide, and several events have underlined its impacts on public health, feed and food trade, and food security. Concerns prompted by the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), and other more common food problems associated with Salmonella, enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli and other contaminants, have encouraged professionals and the feed industry to scrutinize more closely the causes of these diseases and methods for their control. Measures may require limiting the use of some ingredients or radically changing the way in which they are prepared (processed) or sourced. In some cases the locations where animals are grazed need to be restricted. FAO therefore provides current knowledge on animal feed and its impact on food safety, and orientation and advice on this matter.
Transmission of diseases between animals and human (zoonoses) occurs daily around the globe, whether through agricultural practices or everyday activities. Zoonoses consist of a wide range of diseases and range from endemic zoonoses such as brucellosis, anthrax, bovine tuberculosis, parasitic diseases (hydatic disease, echinococcosis, trichinellosis) and rabies to emerging zoonoses as highly pathogenic avian influenza, Nipah/Hendra disease and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy.
The impact on public health and on productive activities is considerable. Risk based programmes should therefore aim at preventing or decreasing the transmission of zoonoses, through adequate policy frameworks, prevention and control measures, and education. Attention should also be paid to ecological, cultural, social and ethical aspects regarding the implementation of control programmes. Besides zoonoses prevention and control, FAO’s programme also aims at minimizing the risk of contamination (biological, chemical and physical) entering the food chain trough animal products. FAO is committed to prevent and control the spread of zoonoses and food borne diseases e.g. salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis and Haemolytic-uraemic syndrome (HUS) caused by E.coli O157 and contamination through appropriate programmes that:
- promote the development and adoption of adequate international, regional and national regulatory frameworks;
- enhance communication and cooperation between animal and human health sectors;
- improve service delivery and strengthen capacities;
- increase professional and public awareness on veterinary public health and food safety issues;
- develop and provide relevant information;
- foster partnerships, coordination and collaboration among stakeholders;
- develop policy making tools.
This is envisaged to be achieved through the establishment of international and regional networks, discussion and information exchange platforms as well as through expert consultations, technical meetings, the implementation of projects and the dissemination of relevant information. Close collaboration is established with other international organsiations such as WHO and OIE as well as regional and national institutions, NGO’s and private sector associations.
Over the years the field of veterinary public health/Feed and Food safety has changed. This requires professionals active in this field to have the needed knowledge and skills to address the issues making use of the new insights and tools. Especially with regard to the professionals there is a need to revise and update the existing university curricula and engage in continuing education.