Shortage in number of veterinarians is a major constraint to world food security and safety

Paris, 23 May 2011 – Veterinarians play a pivotal role in all stages of the food chain namely safe production, processing, transport, and distribution of products of animal origin, but their low numbers in both the private and public sectors of many countries represent a major constraint to world food security and safety.

108 Member Countries of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) participated in the study “The contribution of Veterinary Services to global food security derived from terrestrial animals” and over half of them reported to have fewer than 35 public sector veterinarians per million inhabitants and fewer than 100 private sector veterinarians – involved in the food chain – per million inhabitants.

“Veterinary activities are deployed at each stage in the food chain: production at farm level, processing, transport and distribution at the local and national level or for export. When veterinarians are too few to pursue their duties then the whole food security and food safety systems are affected,” Dr Dominique Martinez of the CIRAD and coordinator of the study commented.

The study, presented at the 79th General Session of the World Assembly of National Delegates in Paris, France stressed that global livestock production is ubiquitous with two-thirds of farmers in the world living in mixed farming systems (crop and animal productions), which account for 50% of world cereal production and respectively generate 75% and 60% of milk and meat production in the developing world while providing dozens of millions of jobs.

Uneven dispatch of resources
The study also highlighted that if an animal health institutional framework exists in all surveyed countries, resources unevenly focus on selected activities. As an example: 86% of countries reported having the theoretical capacity for early detection of animal health hazards, but 30% of them confirmed they had no disease outbreak suspicions during the previous 5 years, which puts the effectiveness of the surveillance system in question.

On food safety policy, resources of Veterinary Services are currently mainly devoted to slaughter inspection activities.
“At the request of our Members and in view of the findings of this study the OIE will further increase its support to Veterinary Services worldwide for the promotion of sustainable food security and food safety from an environmental, and public health perspective. Our mechanism, the ‘PVS Pathway’, for the evaluation of Veterinary Services has proven highly relevant in achieving this task” said Dr Bernard Vallat, OIE Director General.

Poorest countries least served
The study confirmed that the budget allocated to Veterinary Services remains insufficient even when the contribution of animal production to GDP is very high, as is the case in poor countries where agricultural GDP remains a very important share of the country’s economy.

The findings of the study reflected an overall weakness of animal health surveillance systems in developing countries, underlining that “since more than 90% of the budget consists of a state grant in over 60% of countries, the level of development of the Veterinary Services is directly related to the weak state of the economy in these countries (…) even when the contribution of animal production to GDP is very high.”

More investment in animal disease control and prevention would decrease production losses linked with animal disease and improve food security and food safety worldwide.

Read the report