Your veterinary expertise is needed more than ever before. In September at the Zoonoses and National Biosecurity Symposium held in conjunction with the Central Veterinary Conference, Alfonso Torres, DVM, MS, PhD, associate dean for public policy, Cornell University, spoke about global trends that are increasing biosecurity concerns.

Torres provided a modified version of the definition of “Global Health” from the Board on International Health, Institute of Medicine, 1997, which says: “The health of all people and animals is profoundly affected by economic, social, behavioral, political, scientific and technological factors, many of which are changing at an unprecedented pace both in the United States and abroad.”

Five trends

Torres outlined the five main trends that are driving the globalization of biosecurity concerns:

The “livestock revolution”: As economics improve in the developing world, populations move from starch-based diets to protein-based diets, leading to significant increase in poultry and ruminant production around the world. This has been one of the factors for the spread of avian influenza.

Wildlife reservoirs and illegal trade: Wildlife can be the source of a number of emerging infectious diseases. This fact combined with the illegal wildlife trade (second to the illegal drug trade) means that the risk of transmitting infectious agents to humans and domestic animals is a real threat. These practices are also affecting the viability of threatened species in the wild as well as creating serous negative environmental impact by the translocation of non-native species to distant areas of the world.

People, travel and trade: People travel globally every day. In the 1850s, it took over 350 days to circumnavigate the globe. Today it takes a day. Over 800 million people annually travel internationally. The higher rate of movement of animals and increased volume of trade in agricultural commodities increases the opportunity for pathogens and diseases of animals, people and plants to reach distant areas in our planet.

Weakening of veterinary services: In 2006 the OIE said: “Veterinary services are the very core of the system of prevention and control of animal diseases, including those transmissible to humans, and play a major role in every country as guarantors of animal health and associated public health issues.” However, in many developing countries there are few or no trained veterinarians to handle increased livestock production and disease recognition.

Spread of transboundary animal diseases (TAD): TADs are infectious diseases that have the ability of crossing political boundaries resulting in serious economic and health impacts. Many TADs are spreading because of increased animal production, gaps and deficiencies in veterinary services, ecological changes and/or social, political and economic crisis.

How do we respond?

The first step in responding is education and awareness. “We need to highlight the human well-being dependency on animals, the role of veterinarians in human health including zoonoses and food safety, the importance of animal health and food security, and the contributions of healthy animal industries to national and international economies,” Torres says. We also need domestic and international interagency cooperation, legal frameworks and authorities to safeguard animal health and food, a strengthened veterinary service and research and development including risk assessments, zoonotic diseases, diagnostic technologies and biocontainment.