Rome 24 January 2011 - This year has been declared World Veterinary Year, marking the 250th anniversary of the birth of the veterinary profession and of veterinary science. It was in 1761 that King Louis XV of France, troubled by the ongoing scourge of cattle disease, proposed that a veterinary school should be founded in Lyon.
The year also marks the 300th anniversary of the development of the first measures designed to fight bovine diseases, measures that were formulated in the early 18th century by Italian physician Bernardino Ramazzini and by Giovanni Maria Lancisi, personal physician to Popes Innocent XI, Clement XI and Innocent XII.
The slogan adopted for this year of celebration is "Vet for health. Vet for food. Vet for the planet!", a motto that evokes the all-important role that veterinarians play in safeguarding human and animal health, in working to enhance food security and in protecting the environment.
FAO, together with the European Union, is one of the principal institutional partners for this year of commemoration organized by the VET 2011 committee, a body that brings together all the national veterinary organizations that have adhered to World Veterinary Year.
A solemn opening ceremony held at Versailles
During the opening ceremony held today at Versailles in the presence of high-ranking French and international public figures, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf emphasized the important role played by FAO — together with its Member States and other concerned institutions — in the fight against the numerous zoonotic diseases threatening animals and animal products.
Diouf underlined the measures taken by FAO jointly with WHO and OIE (the World Animal Health Organisation) to fight the recent Avian Flu H5N1 pandemic. And he made a point of announcing that in only a few months time, FAO and OIE will be able to announce the total elimination from the planet of the bovine disease, rinderpest. "This will be the first time in human history that an animal disease will have been totally eradicated and only the second time, after the victory over smallpox, that any disease has been totally stamped out of existence".
During his address, the FAO Director-General emphasized the crucial role played by veterinary science which, he said "has significantly reduced mankind's exposure to the risks of zoonotic diseases such as tuberculosis, brucellosis, or other animal flu viruses".
Diouf pointed out that "animal diseases, according to some estimates, cause losses of between 25 and 33 percent in world animal production" and that "the veterinary profession is constantly being forced to deal with new challenges such as new diseases affecting aquaculture and the effects of climate change".
"FAO has made animal health one of the pillars of its strategies", he concluded.
FAO activities in the animal health field
FAO currently has 156 veterinarians working worldwide, people who, along with general animal health, deal primarily with infectious diseases and with parasites that affect domestic and wild animals.
FAO's animal production and health division (AGA) is deeply engaged in the fight to control other animal maladies such as foot and mouth disease , PPR (peste des petits ruminants), African swine disease (ASF) and Rift Valley Fever, just to name a few. Through its activities, AGA provides assistance to ministries of agriculture, animal health agencies and the veterinary services of its member states.
Other VET 2011 events
Along with the announcement of the eradication of rinderpest, which will take place in June 2011, the three major events of World Veterinary Year will be: a world conference on the teaching of the veterinary sciences (to be held in Lyon from 13 to 15 May 2011), a symposium in Rome (June 22 - 23 2011) on the history of the control of animal diseases, using the example of rinderpest, and an international ceremony winding up the year's events to be held in Capetown, in South Africa, from 10 to 14 October 2011.