As an Extension veterinarian, I get the chance to travel to national meetings a bit more often than I did in practice. Today, I'm sitting in the airport in Buffalo, New York, taking advantage of some waiting time to think about this week's column. Our American Association of Extension Veterinarians met there this week, where we also put on a symposium about animal and public health topics.
Our group meets in conjunction with a couple of other national organizations, the U.S. Animal Health Association (USAHA) and the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians (AAVLD). Members of the USAHA are primarily interested in programs and regulations for animal health (usually livestock) in individual states and the US. State and federal veterinarians and their staffs, state department of agriculture officials, and livestock industry representatives meet to discuss issues that affect programs and regulations intended to keep our animals safe from unwanted animal diseases.
Along with the USAHA, the AAVLD meets. These are people concerned with animal diagnostics - the pathologists and researchers from the SDSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, for example. Their meeting focuses on new techniques to more quickly and accurately diagnose animal diseases.
At first glance, it might seem like an odd pairing. Both groups are concerned with animal health, but it would seem they would have little in common.
In fact, the connection between regulatory people and animal disease diagnosticians works very well and is vital to the health of our animal populations. Currently our animal health surveillance and protection efforts focus on specific diseases (consider bovine tuberculosis, brucellosis, and trichomoniasis, for example). Detecting those diseases in animals requires some sort of diagnostic test. If diagnostic methods are lacking - either poorly sensitive, time-consuming, or expensive - the ability to control or eliminate an infectious animal disease is severely compromised. As an example, our state Animal Industry Board can do very little to help a producer who has lost cattle due to anthrax until a laboratory test comes back confirming the disease.
New and improved diagnostic tests developed by the lab people definitely affect the state officials' success in controlling or eradication animal diseases. Bovine tuberculosis, a disease proving pesky to get rid of, was extensively discussed, especially in the context of new diagnostic tests that someday might be a vast improvement over our current methods of slaughter checks and skin tests.
Laboratory veterinarians are also very interested in what is on state and federal animal health officials' plates. Are concerns shifting from one disease to another? Are there new diseases that require test development? As society's concerns shift, state and federal agencies constantly weigh what programs to implement in face of those requests. In turn, agency needs affect the amount of resources that diagnostic laboratories need to devote to certain tests and procedures.
Both arms of the veterinary profession are undergoing challenges right now. Even though consumers are demanding a safer and safer food supply, and cattlemen and horse owners demand tougher health standards for imported animals,