To appreciate the role of the Government, we need to look at the disease control capabilities, respectively, of owners, the veterinary practitioner, and the animal health official.
Owners can do a great deal to keep pets and livestock free of disease, especially through good preventive measures. They can limit contacts with potential sources of infection. But such measures provide no complete guarantee, especially when new animals are added to a herd or flock, pets or livestock travel to and from shows, or neighboring herds and flocks become infected.
The veterinarian can treat individual animals, or all the animals in a herd, and may succeed in eliminating individual cases of a particular disease, or through vaccination may provide protection against exposure to some diseases.
But the practitioner may have little power, as one individual, to stop some highly contagious diseases that spread from herd to herd, or wherever animals are bought or sold. Practitioners can advise farmers on sanitation and disease precautions, but some disease organisms still may move to new sites in dirt or manure on vehicles, equipment, boots and clothing. Practitioners can prescribe treatments against disease-causing ticks and mites, but may have little power to stop their overall spread.
So it falls to the Government to stop the spread of highly contagious diseases, and to eliminate them where practical means exist. It's the Government's job because these diseases can be controlled only when animal movements are regulated, and the Government alone has the authority to impose such regulations. And it's not until such regulations are in force that the owner and practitioner can feel secure in the care and treatment of individual animals and herds.
The Government's primary job is to stop or severely restrict movement of infected and exposed animals. Examinations are required and specific tests prescribed to locate infected flocks. Health tests and certification assure that animals are free of those diseases when they are sold or shipped. The Government also can specify conditions and limits for vaccinations, and may require identification of animals moving in marketing channels.
Regulations specify the proper disposal or slaughter of infected and exposed animals. Inspection and testing of animals at slaughter further support Government disease eradication programs as well as assuring consumers that the meat they buy is safe, wholesome and accurately labeled.
This kind of protection also must include foreign animal diseases. This means strictly regulating the importation of livestock, poultry and their products.
Some foreign diseases are so contagious and so destructive that all susceptible livestock from affected countries are barred from entry into the United States. For virtually all other livestock and poultry, foreign government veterinarians must inspect, test and certify that they are free of communicable diseases. Our own animal health officials check the animals again at our ports of entry. Most shipments also must pass port-of-entry quarantines, except at Canadian and Mexican border crossings.
Then too the Government regulates manufacture and distribution of veterinary pharmaceuticals and biologics, and the use of some feed additives. This assures users that products do what they are supposed to do, have no harmful side effects or residues, and are free of contamination. It is added protection for livestock and poultry, and pets as well.
And beyond disease-preventing activities, there has evolved Government responsibility for the humane care of certain animals that are marketed wholesale, used for research, exhibited in shows and zoos, or transported on common carriers.
The three levels of responsibility owner, veterinarian and Government official effectively complement one another. Without each of these, we would not enjoy the outstanding animal health that we do today.
Thanks to owners across the country, our livestock and poultry industries are among the most productive in the world.
We are served by a corps of highly educated veterinarians, who are equipped with the most modern facilities, and backed up by a highly reliable network of diagnostic laboratories.
And thanks to Government animal health programs, we have eradicated 12 major diseases of livestock and poultry within the past century. Beyond that, we have kept devastating foreign diseases away from our shores.
Animal health is no accident.
We can look back to positive acts that led to the animal health conditions we can enjoy today. We can look back to establishment of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1862, to formation of the American Veterinary Medical Association in 1863, to the Nation's first graduate Veterinary Medical School at Iowa State University in 1879, and to establishment of the Bureau of Animal Industry within USDA in 1884.
Supportive organizations have been established over the years, such as the U.S. Livestock Sanitary Association in 1897 (now the U.S. Animal Health Association) and many livestock and poultry associations.
Events such as these marked the way to better animal health. But most of all it was, and still is, the concern of countless animal owners such as you that assure better care for all types of animals.
"The eye of the master fattens the calf." That eye has seen the need for trained veterinarians, for scientific research, and for coordinated animal health programs with government, veterinarians and owners acting together.
John K. Atwell is Deputy Administrator for Veterinary Services, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.