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  • Anthony Burnett
    Advocacy and Communication Coordinator (ECTAD) AGAH
    FAO HQ, Room B-708b
    Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
    Rome 00153, Italy
    Tel: +39 06 570 55516
  • [email protected]
Burkina Faso: A veterinarian vaccinating a chicken helped by a village woman. ©FAO/Jeanette Van Acker


On the importance of veterinary medicine in the
21st century

Dr. Peter de Leeuw, former Chief Veterinary Officer of the Netherlands and senior veterinary adviser to the Animal Health Service (AGAH) of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, reminds us that certain highly infectious diseases make animal husbandry nearly impossible. However, even less severe diseases that result in poor animal health decrease the performance of farm animals, leading to lower production and associated financial losses due to mortality and morbidity. Poor animal health also negatively influences animal welfare.


It is for this very reason that the provision of veterinary services by national and regional agencies is a key component to the success of farm operations. The lack of proper animal health practices reduces farm efficiencies and impacts potential profits. In fact, empirical studies have demonstrated that there is a direct correlation between the quality of livestock production and the provision of veterinary medical services.


At its core, the role of veterinary professionals is to advise farmers and owners of livestock production systems on the most appropriate herd health management practices according to their specific agro-ecological contexts. This does not only include the treatment of animal illnesses and the proper installment of preventive measures, such as biosecurity, de-worming and vaccination, but also housing, nutrition, cleaning and disinfection of premises and environmental sanitation. The correct undertaking of these last practices may reduce dependency on the usage of veterinary medications and therefore reduce input and labor costs, which in turn positively influences farm productivity and profit margins.


It would be wrong, however, to limit veterinarians' work to advisory and hands-on livestock health activities at farm level, as these professionals are involved with other activities throughout the value chain. For instance, in many countries only healthy farm animals are allowed to be delivered for pre-mortem inspections and further passage to slaughterhouses for meat production―thus ensuring safe and wholesome meat supply available for consumption by the public. Also, veterinarians make sure that only healthy farm animals are exported, imported and distributed, preventing the risk of introducing detrimental, high-impact diseases into a region or country.


In sum, by ensuring good animal health―by taking both preventive and corrective measures―livestock production systems can produce healthy and productive farm animals that make important contributions to food security, income generation, job creation, economic growth, and poverty alleviation.


FAO of the UN is an institutional partner of the World Veterinary Year 2011.