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Animal Health at the Crossroads: Preventing, Detecting, and Diagnosing Animal Diseases
Animal health has broad implications, ranging from the health of individual animals and the well-being of human communities to issues of global security. Many people would be surprised by the assertion that our nation’s highest priorities must include animal health, yet we must recognize and act on this reality to ensure a safe and healthy future. Among other things, animal diseases critically affect the adequacy of the food supply for a growing world population, and they have huge implications for global trade and commerce. Moreover, many animal disease agents are zoonotic—meaning that they are transmittable to humans—so they have dramatic implications for human health and safety, and for animal disease prevention. Animal disease prevention and control is crucial to improving public health on a global scale. In addition, in an era of growing concern about the threat of terrorism, the potential impact of the intentional use of animal disease agents to cause morbidity and mortality, as well as economic damage, is enormous.
The U.S. animal health framework includes many federal, state, and local agencies that generally have differing mandates of law and numerous other public and private entities and international organizations, each with its own goals and objectives, each responsible for maintaining animal health. In the past, this framework has been reasonably effective in responding to a range of demands and challenges. In recent years, however, animal health has been challenged in a manner not previously experienced.
Today animal health is at a crossroads. The risk of disease is coming from many directions, including the globalization of commerce, the restructuring and consolidation of global food and agriculture productions into larger commercial units, the interactions of humans and companion animals, human incursions into wildlife habitats, and the threat of bioterrorism. The impacts of these sources of risk are evident in recent disease events (Box S-1).
Given the changing nature of the risks with which the framework must cope, it is unlikely that the current philosophy on how to protect animal health will be adequate in the future. The risks of animal disease must be dealt with not only in terms of protecting individual species of animals from specific pathogens, but also in a broader context that includes anticipating the emergence and spread of disease on local and global scales and recognizing the relationships of animal disease to human health and the environment. To address animal disease in that context, the animal health framework will have to be more flexible and inclusive of expertise available from research, medical, and public health communities, and from the fields of environmental sciences and public policy, among others. To respond comprehensively to new threats, the responsi-