The Need for Public-Private-Academic Partnerships by Scott J. Wells

Thursday, 15 December 2016 - 11:00am
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We all need to eat to stay healthy. Helping to assure the security and safety of our food supply is a critical challenge here in the US and abroad, and one of the ways we at the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety (CAHFS) and College of Veterinary Medicine work to meet this challenge is by controlling important infectious diseases of livestock and poultry that pose economic, trade, and public health risks.

One of these infectious diseases is bovine tuberculosis (TB), the cattle form of a disease that globally leads to 10 million human illnesses and 1.8 million deaths each year. While the prevalence of bovine TB in US cattle herds is very low—unlike many other countries—bovine TB remains a very costly problem due to the increased testing and control efforts that result when infection is found.

Bovine TB is difficult to detect and control. One of the problems is the hidden nature of the infection in cattle, resulting in continued spread of infection before detection. One of the most serious risks is posed when infected but undetected cattle are purchased and introduced into susceptible herds, leading to newly infected herds.

Through partnerships with the University of the Republic and the Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture, and Fisheries in Uruguay and Chiang Mai University in Thailand, CAHFS and University of Minnesota research has demonstrated the importance of cattle movements as a risk factor for bovine TB in two countries with higher prevalence than in the US. Cattle movement information is not routinely collected or available in the US, but a complete cattle traceability system is available in Uruguay and a few other countries. Working with our partners in Uruguay, we have developed a model of bovine TB spread using Uruguay cattle movement data and identified more cost-effective methods of detecting infected herds. We are working to adapt this model to the US situation, where we lack complete movement data. This may lead to less expensive and more effective detection systems.

This animal health situation with bovine TB demonstrates the importance of partnerships. We all depend on the global food system to sustain us, and, especially in this time of food security and safety risks and constrained budgets, the need for public-private-academic partnerships has never been greater.

 

Scott J. Wells

Director, Center for Animal Health and Food Safety 

Professor, Veterinary Population Medicine

College of Veterinary Medicine