Food safety agency has 270 veterinary surgeons but not one on its board - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Food safety agency has 270 veterinary surgeons but not one on its board

RICHARD GARD
in his first report on the 2012 congress of the British Cattle Veterinary Association covers the three papers in the opening session relating to food safety and public health

THE 2012 congress of the British
Cattle Veterinary Association, held
in Telford in November, was
opened by Lord Rooker, chairman
of the Food Standards Agency.

He provided an insight into the
operation of the FSA which has 270
veterinary surgeons, 800 meat
inspectors and a total of 1,800
people employed – all civil servants.

The agency is a non-ministerial
government department that operates
with
openness and
transparency
and is
independent
of ministers.

Advice is
published to ministers
without prior approval. The 10 board
members are independent and
“absolutely committed” that food
safety will not be put at risk, with a
science and evidence base leading
their decisions, he said.

Putting consumer first

Currently there is no veterinary
surgeon on the board. Vacancies are
promoted on the website and
applications from the profession
would be welcomed. The FSA has a
£25 million research budget, which is
one fifth of the total budget.

Lord Rooker emphasised that the
agency’s aims are food safety and
putting the consumer first with great
emphasis on working to make sure
that nothing goes wrong. There is a
need to act quickly when problems are detected but the media and
political spotlight only occurs when
problems occur.

Every meat plant has a member
of the FSA staff on site by EU law.
During the discussion the value of
casualty slaughter disease detection
before entering the food chain was
highlighted.

Continuing the opening session of
three presentations, Professor Seamus
Fanning, of University College Dublin Institute of Food and Health,
pointed out that the most dangerous
food is likely to be a wedding cake.

Addressing the issue of food-
borne zoonotic risks, the issue of
contaminated water for irrigation of
crops was highlighted with a
particular outbreak resulting from
bacteria-laden watering of tomatoes.
Food-borne illness accounts for £1.5
billion of expenditure in lost working
time, illness and death in England
and Wales.

Continually changing

Pathogenicity and drug resistance of
organisms is continually changing.
Commensal organisms can acquire
additional genomic material and
become pathogenic and antibiotic-
resistant organisms can become non-resistant.

If the resistance is within the plasmid, the organism is more likely
to lose resistance than if in the
chromosome. An understanding of
disease transmission routes is
essential. Soil organisms can act as a
reservoir and there is transfer of
genetic material from bug to bug
with traits transmitting from animal
to man and man to animal.

Bio-control options, such as
probiotics, are being investigated for
anti-infective activity and more is
becoming known about the
persistence, pathogenesis and transmission of
food-borne zoonotic
bacteria.

The challenge is to
predict evolving
pathogens and to
reduce the carriage of
bacteria of public
health importance.
Professor Fanning clearly stated that
veterinary surgeons are in the human
health business.

Questioned about current
thinking of any human health links
with MAP (Mycobacterium Avium
paratuberculosis
), Professor Fanning
indicated that the organism was not
considered to be a zoonosis.
However, industry needs to be aware
of the possibility and so extra
precautions must be taken with milk intended for the production of infant
formula. This is particularly relevant
to Ireland due to the volume of
exports of baby milk.

The chief veterinary officer, Nigel
Gibbens, discussed cattle and food
production for 2012 and beyond.

Collaborative working

He noted that there had been foot-
and-mouth disease outbreaks during
2012 in various parts of the world;
that practitioners would be expected
to have a role in TB control; that
Schmallenberg virus has spread more quickly than
bluetongue, with
further impact from the
virus expected.
Collaborative working
across the EU is now
established, he said.

World population is
continuing to grow
with the population of Africa expected to double by 2050.
Since 1970 one billion people have
been hungry, one billion have poor
nutrition and one billion are obese.
The food supply is fragile, there is
not enough water for future demand,
a 2 degrees centigrade rise in global temperature is the
likely outcome and meat
consumption rises with wealth.

There is a need for sustainable
intensification that results in
agricultural production with environmental quality. Profitable
production has to be linked with
animal welfare.

The UK is facing manageable
changes, with other countries
becoming hotter and
drier. “Health and welfare” need to be
improved with effective
husbandry systems that
do not substitute
antimicrobials for good
farm management, Mr
Gibbens said.

A consultation is
open during January on
a new disease
surveillance model.
Surveillance is to be
integrated with an
increase in intelligence gathering with
opportunities for veterinary
practitioners to become involved.
The principle is that the Government
will be limited to doing what
Government does well.

It is important that veterinary
surgeons in practice take part in the
consultation, he said, so that an
effective disease prevention strategy
with supporting facilities is put in
place.

A later session continued the
surveillance theme. Gavin Watkins
(AHVLA) reviewed what surveillance has discovered in the past 12 months.
Endemic and zoonotic disease trends
are collated with scanning
surveillance detecting threats to
health and welfare.

A retrospective
search has detected 58
cases of fatal idiopathic
arterial rupture in the
UK since 2003 in
Holstein Friesian cows.
Ten cases were found in
Holland in 2008 and
cases have been recorded
in the USA. A
collaborative study is
taking place and it is
thought that the
condition is breed
related.

Schmallenberg virus infection
presents as a mild disease in non-
pregnant cattle with foetal deformity
and death in dairy and beef cows.
Bulk milk monitoring of the virus is
ongoing in herds that have recorded
foetal malformations or other
indications of disease. There is an
expectation of more cases from
midge transmission to early pregnant
animals although abnormality cases
will relate to time of infection with
time of calving.

Andrew Soldan (AHVLA)
described the 2014 Surveillance Project with an appeal to veterinary
surgeons in practice to help to design
the new system. Early detection is
important and the design must be
effective and affordable.

Currently the AHVLA receives
7,500 post mortem submissions per
annum with the government
absorbing 80% of the cost. There are
41,000 diagnostic submissions
involving 222,000 tests and the
government pays 44%. Half of the
current AHVLA laboratories are not
within one hour of herds that are
anticipated to require post mortem
support. The budget for 2011-12 is
£6.6 million to be reduced to £4.9
million in 2014-15. The current
system is unsustainable, he said.

He anticipated that there would
be more specialism of AHVLA staff
(special expert groups) with improved
carcase transport and more post
mortems per location and AHVLA
would become less involved with
routine submissions.

Following the current
consultation, recommendations to
ministers are expected in the spring
of 2013.

Selecting for surveillance

Utilising test results to establish
Johne’s disease prevalence and
selecting cows for surveillance was
discussed by James Hanks (University
of Reading). The punchline is that if
the data on milk yield, third lactation
or more and cell count are used
collectively, the success in detecting
Johne’s is 95%. This is an increase
over random testing of a 30-cow
screen.

Assessment of data from 69,000
cows shows that cows in lactation
three or above are 1.5 times more
likely to be disease positive than first
or second lactation cows. A cell
count of over 200,000 cells per ml
and milk yield of 25% lower than
expected both indicate two times more likely to test positive. There is
no association between the number
of services and the detection of
Johne’s.

On the day of test, a prevalence
of 8.1% positive for Johne’s was
recorded and there is a likely
doubling of prevalence if the cow
and herd history is incorporated. The
displays of individual cow and herd
information, utilising data available
online, showed clearly the incidence
and trends and indicates cows at risk.

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