Remarks prepared for Dr. Barbara J. Masters, Administrator, FSIS, at the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Annual Convention, Event 2425, July 18, 2006, in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Slides to accompany this presentation (PDF Only)
Good morning. It’s a pleasure to see all of you so bright and early this morning.
Seventeen years ago, I started my public practice career with FSIS in Hot Springs, Arkansas. This career choice is absolutely one of the best and rewarding decisions I have ever made. As a veterinarian, my career path in FSIS has taken me through a variety of interesting and challenging posts throughout the agency and country, both in its field offices and at headquarters.
I’ll be discussing why veterinarians should consider public practice. I’ll not only provide you with some further insight on the exciting opportunities for veterinarians in public practice, but also how the diverse skills of veterinarians are in strong demand and being used in new and varied ways across government.
A Proud Record of Public Service and Public Health Success
Individuals like Louis Pasteur, Jonas Salk, Sir Alexander Fleming, and John Snow have gained prominent recognition in classroom textbooks as leaders who have advanced our public health system.
However, veterinarians have also played a tremendous role in advancing public health success through their visionary initiatives and public service policies.
As Agriculture Secretary Mike vice is more than a job; it’s a calling." Veterinarians have answered the call to public service for over 200 years.
Veterinarians Answering the Call to Public Service in Europe
Between 1779 and 1819, Johann Peter Frank, a pioneer in social medicine in Germany, advocated the need for inspection of slaughter animals and meat for zoonotic disease by specially trained veterinarians. By the latter part of the 19th century in England and continental Europe, the role of veterinarians became more recognized and appreciated by physicians, society, and
ultimately by politicians who implemented food inspection laws.
Robert Van Ostertag, known as the “Father of Veterinary Meat Inspection” developed a rigorous scientific inspection program in Berlin in the 1890s. At the time, Van Ostertag wrote, “Veterinarians must do the important tasks of food hygiene for public health.”
Veterinarians Answering the Call to Public Service in the United States
The momentum for increased veterinary roles was increasing stateside as well. In 1879, Lachlan McLean was the first veterinary inspector appointed in Brooklyn, New York. McLean also pushed for veterinarians to be in charge of meat inspection.
A decade later, a growing number of industry and government leaders were echoing McLean’s call. England restricted importation of U.S. cattle for slaughter and several European countries prohibited U.S. pork because of Trichinella.
Therefore in 1890, the United States enacted a law requiring veterinary inspection of live animals for export and inspection of cured meat for both export and interstate commerce. This was the first comprehensive piece of federal legislation in this country to safeguard the food supply, and veterinarians were the key players to see it enforced.
The law’s application to domestic trade was limited, but it opened the way for an enhanced role for veterinarians. In fact, the Guide to Practical Meat Inspection, written in 1900, stated “veterinarians are the profession appointed for this work. Therefore the practice of meat inspection rests in the hands of veterinarians.”
Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle published in 1905, was a catalyst for change. It caused a public and political outcry by portraying unsanitary as well as unsafe working conditions in Chicago slaughterhouses. Meat sales around the United States plummeted by a third.spection Act of 1906 was the watershed event in the history of food safety and public health in the United States. The 1906 Act started a system of continuous veterinary inspection in slaughterhouses. It called for mandatory inspection of all meat and meat products moving in interstate commerce, and it required ante mortem and post mortem inspection of cattle, hogs,
sheep and goats. Sanitary standards for slaughter and processing facilities were also established.
The inspection workforce in packing plants became teams of inspectors specifically trained to separate abnormal animals at ante mortem and abnormal carcasses at post mortem. Veterinarians with advanced training in inspection further examined the separated animals and carcasses and made final dispositions. They also collected tissues for laboratory examination and prepared and
While significant changes have occurred, it is important to recognize that continuous inspection of livestock and poultry at slaughter continues today, having endured through subsequent meat and poultry acts. In fact this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Federal Meat Inspection Act, which has had a profound impact on public health over the past century.
Two Veterinary Pioneers
Veterinarians served a critical role in implementing food safety regulations and bringing about improvements in public health toward the end of the 19th and throughout the 20th centuries. However, two veterinary pioneers were instrumental in linking animal health to the improvement of public health. They were Daniel Salmon and Jim Steele.
Daniel Salmon was the first individual to earn a , in 1884, he was the first chief of USDA’s Bureau of Animal Industry, which was the agency responsible for overseeing the first meat inspection laws.
Dr. Salmon pioneered research in bacterial diseases of animals and in immunology. His efforts led to the development of certain vaccines and to the naming of the bacterial genus Salmonella in his honor. His work contributed immeasurably to improving public health and disease control efforts in general.
Another veterinary pioneer is Dr. Jim Steele. He served in the newly established Veterinary Public Health Corps in World War II, combating Hemorrhagic Fever in the jungles of the war’s Pacific theater. Named Chief Veterinary Officer of the U.S. Public Health Service, he was subsequently appointed Assistant Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service, being the first
veterinarian to hold this position.le’s major contribution then, and still to this day, is promoting the awareness of the significant role of the animal reservoir to the major human health hazards throughout the ages. This was particularly so in the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century in the face of changing agricultural practices and biotechnological developments in the food processing
industry that were occurring as a result of emerging hazards.
Fewer Becoming Ill
The visionary efforts of these two veterinarians and many other of our predecessors have brought what once were thought to be two seemingly disparate fields of study together. Good animal health and welfare can contribute to good public health. Veterinarians have played a key role in the inter-relationship and understanding of farm-to-table food safety principles.
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Thanks to the work of public service veterinarians, far fewer people today are getting sick from the food they eat than 100 years ago. The control of contagious animal diseases and vast improvements in identifying and controlling foodborne pathogens stemming from animals used for food have significantly lowered foodborne illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
reported continued overall reductions in foodborne illnesses from 1996 through 2005, stemming from E. coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes and Campylobacter commonly linked to meat and poultry products.
Opportunities for Veterinarians in Public Service
As you see, veterinary medicine is an integral and indispensable component of this nation’s public health system. Many federal and state agencies will need veterinarians and their diverse skills to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Having a veterinary degree is a golden opportunity for seemingly endless career choices in the public sector. One of our star veterinary student employees, Katie Murphy of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, stated that a career in public health is vital and “satisfies the idealist in me that I don’t think will ever go away.”
In a post 9/11 counter-terrorism world, the concerns over bioterrorism and other security-related issues will not abate. Agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Public Health Service and the military will need veterinarians to minimize animal diseases and prevent diseased animals from entering the United States. Therefore, the importance of educating veterinarians and veterinary medical students on increasing their vigilance with respect to foreign animal diseases cannot be understated.
Even within FSIS, we utilize veterinary skills and expertise in our Office of Food Defense and Emergency Response. As you see on this slide, Tyler McAlpin, joined this staff after serving in an internship for FSIS last year. One of the many duties that Tyler is currently working on is to construct and implement tabletop exercises that test our response to a possible outbreak of
highly pathogenic avian influenza. Tyler feels he is giving back to the country, contributing in a significant way to national policy on counterterrorism measures – and he recognizes that private practice remains an option for him.
Disaster recovery is another area where veterinarians are greatly needed by many government agencies. As we saw from last year’s horrific hurricanes, veterinarians were indispensable with their assistance in recovery operations and contributions in restoring the well being of animals and humans alike. It will also be imperative for veterinarians to partner more closely with
physicians in future disaster relief efforts to mitigate the loss of human and animal lives.
Biomedical research is also an area for veterinarians to consider in public practice. The Department of Health and Human Services needs veterinarians to support the development of animal models for human diseases. This vital career track goes a long way in creating profound advancements in curing and preventing grave human diseases.
And in food safety, the demand for veterinarians’ skills will certainly continue to grow. I mentioned the advancements veterinarians have made over the past century in improving public health using the Federal Meat Inspection Act and other food safety acts. Veterinarians are vital leaders helping us move forward into the next century through implementing a more risk-based approach to meat and poultry inspection to further enhance public health protection. In other words, public health veterinarians in FSIS are beginning to work in teams, utilizing real-time data and performing epidemiological analyses to evaluate potential hazards in the food production system and then determining how best to focus preventive measures to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.
Veterinarians are also currently utilized in tracing back the sources of foodborne illnesses, and we can expect to see even more demand in epidemiology as well. The emergence of genetic analysis of pathogens and diagnostic technologies that is available now enables veterinarians to conduct "forensic" type investigations. The technology of today, and tomorrow, presents
opportunities for public practice veterinarians in this exciting field to further protect the public’s health.
The Public Sector’s Critical Challenge
Over the past 100 years, I believe the result of our collective efforts from the farm to the table in veterinary research, education, regulation, outreach has created a significantly safer and more wholesome food supply as well as improved animal health and well-being perhaps beyond the expectations of our predecessors. We have more to accomplish. Without new veterinarians dedicated to public practice, we may fail to meet the demands of this sector of our profession – a critical sector – the nexus between animal and human health.
I hope that you agree, or that by the end of this important session, you are in agreement, that there is a critical need for public practice veterinarians. The federal and state governments will have a continued, and we believe a growing need for services in public health and food safety, national disease control programs, homeland security and biomedical research on human
health problems. These needs can best be met by dedicated veterinarians wishing to make a difference in the world.
As these challenges which will place a premium demand for the services of veterinarians, the federal government will also be facing a critical point in the near future because of potential large-scale retirements in all sectors of veterinary medicine. Public practice will feel it acutely because the challenges we face are enormous.
Recognizing this potential labor shortage and need to meet new animal and public health challenges of the 21st century, Colorado Senator Wayne Allard, himself a veterinarian, last year proposed Senate Bill 914, the Veterinary Workforce Expansion Act. This Bill would amend the Public Health Service Act to establish a competitive grant program to build capacity in veterinary medical
education and expand the workforce of veterinarians engaged in public health practice and biomedical research. This and other initiatives are “in the works,” and you can learn more about them in today’s sessions.
Closing – Overview of Today’s Session
In closing, I believe there is a need to expand the number of veterinarians serving in the public sector and to build the capacity of veterinary medical school education to meet the future demands of this nation. The demand for veterinarians serving in public practice, especially areas of food safety, will continue to rise.
We need to shed the old perception that working for the government is where you go when you can’t do anything else, or you are ready to retire. The career opportunities are enormous as the next speaker will demonstrate quite vividly.
But I will provide one example – Dr. Perfecto Santiago. He started as an inspector-in-charge in rural Nebraska, worked his way up to serve as a district manager, and currently he’s the second in command for the Office of Food Defense and Emergency Response.
I hope that I’ve provided you with compelling reasons why veterinarians should consider public practice. The opportunities for veterinarians in the public sector now are incredibly vast, challenging, and above all, meaningful and exciting. They truly are more than a job – they’re a calling!
If you want to make a difference in the world, this session is meant for you. And faculty, you can learn what opportunities are out there for your students as well. Throughout the day you will understand the emerging challenges for veterinary medicine both domestically and internationally and how veterinarians are currently serving the public.
Next, we’ll focus on the latest recommendations for colleges of veterinary medicine to increase the supply of teachers, researchers and public health practitioners. Then, we’ll look at the predictions on the supply and demand for food supply veterinary medicine and obtain recommendations for the profession. And finally, we’ll conclude today’s program with a look at what specifically public
practice organizations are doing to attract and keep veterinarians.
As you see, we have a very ambitious program, but I believe it will be a very constructive one.