August 2006
From the State Vet's Office

"I’m from the Government and I’m here to help you!"

by Dr. Tony Frazier

I was recently invited to attend AFC’s Summer Booking Show in Birmingham and asked to speak on premises registration and animal identification.

As I sometimes do to start a presentation I said "I’m from the Government and I’m here to help you." As usual this statement brought a few smiles and a guy in the back is thinking with sarcasm… "yeah, right." The rest of the meeting went well and the take home message of the importance of livestock traceability for disease control was received.

This meeting was another great opportunity for us government folk to get together with representatives from the livestock industry. As always I appreciate the chance to meet with industry and we at the Department of Agriculture and Industries realize the importance of this kind of interaction.

But later I was thinking about that opening statement and thought to discuss a few "government" programs that have been successful. Several livestock diseases have traditionally been labeled Program Diseases and for good reason. There is or has been a government program that has worked to eradicate the "program disease." Some of these are zoonotic diseases—they can cause disease in humans as well as animals.

While there are still a large number of diseases that affect livestock, the State of Alabama no longer has Bovine Brucellosis (Bang’s Disease), Swine Brucellosis, Swine Pseudorabies, or Bovine Tubercullosis (TB).

Those successes are excellent examples of how the government (USDA and the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries) working with industry has helped the livestock industry and in many cases protected public health. Notice that I did say that government helped. Without the cooperation of producers, slaughter establishments, auction markets, veterinarians, and others, we would still be plagued with those diseases.

Consider that not only are TB and Brucellosis considerable animal health problems in a large part of the world, they also are a significant human health problem. In parts of the world where milk pasteurization is not common or where producers come into contact with aborted calves, lambs, goats, or pigs, a significant number of the people that are in hospitals are being treated for those diseases. In fact, in some poor countries, almost 1/3 of the patients that are hospitalized are for the treatment of Brucellosis.

In addition to not having to deal with the human form of those diseases, we no longer face the negative economic impact associated with those "program diseases." In many instances, abortion storms were associated with these diseases in animals. While TB was not known for causing abortions, it usually caused severe production losses. Even without the abortions and production losses, there was still the trouble and expense of catching animals and testing them and, in the case of TB, catching them again to read the skin test. These tests were required to ship animals across most state lines until we became officially free of them.

Another government program that has been and continues to be a success is the present method of meat inspection known as HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points). This form of meat inspection, which was phased in, in the late 1990s, is credited for a sizeable reduction in food borne illnesses associated with meat. The incidence of Salmonella and E. coli infections in humans have been reduced because of this comprehensive method of meat inspection which includes testing meat and the environment where it is processed for pathogens.

Those are only a few examples of the government helping the producer and the consumer. It is worth mentioning that government programs are often not received with open-arms. Even the Bang’s program, which began as a voluntary program, had to be declared mandatory before success in eradicating the disease could be achieved.

"Mandatory" is one of those words that when combined with the word "government" sometimes is not met with widespread approval. I hope you can see how some of these mandatory government programs have benefited animal agriculture.

Like most people, I do not want too much government interference in my life. "I’m from the government and I’m here to help you" is jokingly said to be one of the three great lies, along with "The check is in the mail." The third of the "great lies" varies depending on who’s telling it. However, when you hear me say "I’m from the government and I’m here to help you"—that is my intention and my motivation.