Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Veterinarians Protect Both Human and Animal Health


Pet Column for the week of January 14, 2013

Related information:

Related site - Center for One Health Illinois
Services - Public Health
Services - Veterinary Profession

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Sarah Netherton
Information Specialist

Source - Dr. Jack Herrmann
Most people think of veterinarians as the doctors who give yearly exams to dogs and cats and care for sick pets. Yet, veterinarians play a crucial role in many aspects of human health, from ensuring a safe food supply to preventing the spread of infectious disease.

“Veterinarians are the only health professionals actively engaged in the food production industry,” notes Dr. Jack Herrmann, a veterinarian on faculty at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana. “The number one employer of veterinarians in the United States is the Department of Agriculture.”

Food animal veterinarians work with animals and animal food products, such as meat and milk, to ensure that these products are safe for human consumption. They inspect farms and facilities used in food preparation, vaccinate animals, ensure that antimicrobial drugs are used appropriately, advise farmers and managers on welfare and profitability of their animals, and help prevent transmission of disease from animals to people. Veterinarians that are employed by the government set up surveillance programs that assure food safety.

As director of the veterinary college’s Center for One Health Illinois, Dr. Herrmann is on a mission to provide fact-based information that can help people make good decisions regarding health issues, and to raise awareness about veterinarians’ role in human health. “One health” is a term used to convey the interconnectedness among health issues for people, wild and domestic animals, and the environment.

“There are many food myths in circulation. One is that milk contains antibiotics,” says Dr. Herrmann. “When I’m giving a talk and ask who believes milk contains antibiotics, nearly half of the hands in the room go up. But the truth is that there are at least four safety checks for antimicrobials and other drugs in place—at the farm bulk tank and at various points along the consumer product production process—to ensure that milk for sale in stores is antibiotic free.”

Veterinarians working for the Food and Drug Administration developed this multi-check system, and farmers are responsible for carrying it out.

A free public forum that will address common public health misconceptions will be held at the College of Veterinary Medicine on January 24. “Marijuana, Monsters and Milk: Public Health Perspectives” is the first in a series on public health issues, titled “One Health & You: News You Can Use,” offered throughout spring 2013 by the Center for One Health Illinois. At each event, a panel of experts will present evidence on health topics, followed by a period for questions and comments from the audience.

The January 24 forum will cover marijuana research and policy, energy ("monster") drinks and heart disease, cell phones and cancer studies, vaccination safety, antimicrobials in milk and meat, and safety issues related to bottled water and hand sanitizers. Three subsequent panel presentations will cover risks associated with emerging diseases, raw diets and other food fads, and animal welfare issues from farms to home to zoos.

For more information about food safety, speak with a food animal veterinarian or visit the Center for One Health Illinois website at vetmed.illinois.edu/onehealth/.