Dr. Richard A. Raymond, previously the Chief Medical Officer for Nebraska and subsequently Under Secretary for Food Safety at the USDA from 2005 to 2008, commented on advances in disease suppression at the InnoVet 2010 Biotechnology Conference in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada.

The theme of his presentation was “healthier animals contribute to safer food, resulting in healthier humans.” Recent outbreaks of disease including avian influenza demonstrate the link between livestock and human health.

Dr. Raymond is an opponent of the frequently expressed sentiment that “bigger is not necessarily better”. He believes that intensive agricultural practices are necessary to feed the world’s burgeoning population. Because the risks and consequences of infection increase with large production units, appropriate controls and good production practices including biosecurity and vaccination are necessary to ensure a safe food supply.

During his career with USDA he participated in a number of international organizations including the World Health Organization. This body has stated “governments could save billions of dollars by stepping up the prevention and control of high impact animal diseases some of which pose a direct threat to human health”.

Raymond commented that life expectancy in the U.S. in 1900 was only 49 years but increased to 78 years by the end of the 20th century. Causes of death have changed markedly with the transition from infections to metabolic and life style conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

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The adoption of confined livestock and concentrated production systems has impacted animal and poultry health requiring more intensive vaccination, environmental remediation and a safe food and water supply. The application of appropriate preventive measures has virtually eliminated the impact of trichinosis, BSE, tuberculosis, anthrax, and brucellosis in livestock now raised in North America.

Although poultry have not historically been associated with human disease, the recent outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in Asia and more recently egg-borne salmonellosis in Europe and the U.S. illustrate some of the problems which must be anticipated and prevented.

Raymond expressed the need to maintain federal inspection in meat and egg plants. The application of advances in biotechnology will contribute to the development of vaccines and hopefully should eliminate the need for antibiotics. Biotechnology should also contribute to more effective diagnostic procedures.

Consumer education is considered to be an important component of promoting public health. Improved monitoring of feed quality to ensure wholesomeness, enhancing trace back and strengthening surveillance for critical diseases are all required as food production is intensified.

As a physician and administrator, Raymond recognizes the need for one health initiative. This requires close collaboration between government and private sectors and cooperation among a wide range of professional disciplines to benefit all stakeholders.