Global vet shortage threatens food security

by Bryan Salvage
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PARIS – Low numbers of veterinarians in both the private and public sectors of many countries pose a threat to world food security and safety since they play a pivotal role in all stages of the food chain.

One-hundred-eight member countries of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) participated in a study titled “The contribution of Veterinary Services to global food security derived from terrestrial animals.” More than half of them said they have less than 35 public-sector veterinarians per million inhabitants and fewer than 100 private-sector veterinarians – involved in the food chain – per million inhabitants.

“Veterinary activities are deployed at each stage in the food chain: production at farm level, processing, transport and distribution at the local and national level or for export,” said Dr. Dominique Martinez of the CIRAD and coordinator of the study. When veterinarians are too few to pursue their duties, then the whole food-security and food-safety systems are affected,”

Presented at the 79th General Session of the World Assembly of National Delegates in Paris, France, the study stressed global livestock production is ubiquitous with two-thirds of farmers in the world living in mixed farming systems (crop and animal productions), which account for 50 percent of world cereal production and respectively generate 75 percent and 60 percent of milk and meat production in the developing world while providing dozens of millions of jobs.

If an animal-health institutional framework exists in all surveyed countries, resources unevenly focus on selected activities, the study stated. Eighty-six percent of countries reported having the theoretical capacity for early detection of animal health hazards, but 30 percent of them confirmed they had no disease outbreak suspicions during the previous five years, which puts the effectiveness of the surveillance system in question.

Regarding food-safety policy, resources of Veterinary Services are currently mainly devoted to slaughter inspection activities.

“At the request of our members and in view of the findings of this study the OIE will further increase its support to Veterinary Services worldwide for the promotion of sustainable food security and food safety from an environmental, and public health perspective,” said Dr. Bernard Vallat, OIE director general.” Our mechanism, the ‘PVS Pathway’, for the evaluation of Veterinary Services has proven highly relevant in achieving this task.”

The budget allocated to Veterinary Services remains insufficient even when the contribution of animal production to GDP is very high, as is the case in poor countries where agricultural GDP remains a very important share of the country’s economy, the study confirms.

Study findings reflected an overall weakness of animal-health surveillance systems in developing countries, underlining that “since more than 90 percent of the budget consists of a state grant in over 60 percent of countries, the level of development of the Veterinary Services is directly related to the weak state of the economy in these countries (…) even when the contribution of animal production to GDP is very high.”

Increasing investment in animal disease control and prevention would decrease production losses linked with animal disease and improve food security and food safety worldwide, the study concludes.
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