UMass-Amherst to lead national effort on animal disease

Published 10 February 2006

Another academic-led effort, this time to ensure early detection and tacking of diseased animals

The University of Massachusetts-Amherst will lead a national effort to help prevent animal diseases and protect the food supply. UMass-Amherst veterinary immunologist Cynthia Baldwin will lead the $2.1 million project, which should accelerate the characterization and treatment of a range of ailments such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy and avian influenza. “Many diseases, in addition to being a health threat, have the potential to endanger global food supplies and national economies,” said Peter Johnson of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) national program for animal health. “UMass-Amherst took the lead in recognizing the need to coordinate an international effort — it will provide critical tools that can be used immediately by scientists in their research areas.”

The new U.S. Veterinary Immune Reagent Network will coordinate the efforts of the veterinary immunological research community as it addresses key obstacles to understanding how to best control and prevent animal diseases. Work will focus on six economically important species and their relatives: cattle, poultry, horses, swine, catfish, and salmonids. More than forty scientists from universities, institutes, USDA labs and industry will participate in the research.

We have all heard about diseases such as BSE and bird flu, but less well-known ills such as infectious bursal disease in poultry and IHNV in trout cost the U.S. economy millions of dollars each year. To combat diseases that are of greatest concern to industry and agriculture, the network will consult with an international advisory board of scientists and industry representatives, including representatives from groups such as the Catfish Farmers of America and the National Milk Producers Federation. The network’s central lab will be at UMass-Amherst, but scientists with expertise in each species group of interest will conduct research at labs across the country: Horses at the University of Kentucky (where else?), trout at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Western Fisheries Research Center in Seattle, and swine at the USDA’s agricultural research station in Beltsville, Maryland.

-read more in this report; and in this news release

MORE: Consumers tend to take it for granted that the food they buy is safe — it appears to be hygienically packed, it has date stamps and it, and more. Is it safe, though? These are questions consumers ask not only in the United States, but also in South Africa. Michael Broughton of the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa (CGCSA) points out that “Globalisation, changing weather patterns, and the lack of information on food safety in South Africa are among the reasons why the CGCSA has launched an important new initiative to monitor food standards of the food supply chain to the benefit of consumers, the food industry and all stakeholders.” This food safety initiative is being established as a division of the CGCSA to assist the industry on all safety matters. It will focus on three key areas: the food safety standards, a central knowledge database, and a food alert system. “Although South Africa has always prided itself on excellent safety standards,” continued Broughton, “risk is always an element which we simply cannot afford to ignore. Thus there will be a special focus on risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication, so that we are confident that we have a thorough understanding of risks at each stage of the food supply — from farm to fork. Highlighting risks will also be beneficial to consumers, since it will enable them to make informed decisions at the point of purchase.” Report; and see the CGCSA Web site

ALSO: Food supply safety is also a major topic in Europe. See this detailed report about the 1 February meeting of the 25th Fresh Produce Forum, held in the Netherlands. We like the name of the organizer: Fruit Logistica. Report