GMOs and Food

Legislative action needed to maintain ‘crown jewel’

First Posted: 12:38 pm - March 8th, 2017 - Views

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By Donald Sanders

For Rural Life Today

URBANA — As I wrote in Part 1 last month, the Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine is a leader among veterinary medicine colleges in the U.S. But its ability to continue this proud tradition is threatened by inadequate state funding and a shortage of faculty.

In Part 2, I look at some of the potential consequences of this problem – and what we can do about it.

Based upon 2008 data which was published in 2011, veterinary medicine contributes more than $5 billion annually to Ohio’s economy. Even more important, veterinarians play a key role in protecting Ohio’s $110 billion animal agriculture industry. It is anticipated that this number is even greater today, and the College of Veterinary Medicine and the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association have recently commissioned economists to perform an updated study evaluating the economic and social impacts of veterinary medicine in Ohio.

Veterinarians are becoming even more essential with the increasing incidence of high profile zoonotic diseases – those that spread from animals to humans or vice versa. Avian influenza is one of the big ones. Salmonella, rabies and cryptosporidium are just a few of the others.

I have lost tabs on the financial losses caused by avian flu, but more than a billion dollars of poultry was destroyed in the U.S. last year. Now the disease is rampant in Asian countries such as China and South Korea. Some citizens in these countries are contracting this flu bug. Some ultimately die.

Fortunately, no one in the U.S. has died from avian flu. Avian flu is not easily transmitted to humans, but workers in direct contact with raw chicken parts, such as in poultry processing plants, are susceptible.

Salmonella also is a major cause of food-borne illness. Cryptosporidium, which causes diarrhea, is primarily transmitted through contaminated water supplies. However, every year many people, including some in the veterinary profession, develop the disease when they fail to wear latex gloves or don’t adequately wash their hands after examining recently born sick calves.

In 2013, the virus porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) entered the U.S. by way of feed ingredients from China. In the space of several months, this virus killed over seven million baby pigs in the U.S. Individuals not associated with the swine industry were mostly unaware of this catastrophic event – but noticed increased pork prices at the grocery later in the summer.

Investigators at the Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine and the Ohio Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in Reynoldsburg, in conjunction with other state diagnostic labs in Iowa and Minnesota, identified the virus and it’s DNA.

Later, Ohio’s Veterinary Diagnostic Lab identified another similar PED virus, delta corona virus. This collaborative research led to development of a vaccine for the disease, which has greatly minimized the economic impact. But it was a nightmarish year for pork producers.

Ohio State’s vet school is blessed with several pre-eminent researchers in influenza viruses, cancer and other diseases such as Salmonella.

Without adequate funding, however, the vet school will be less able to keep ahead of diseases that threaten Ohio’s #1 industry, agriculture, and our state’s and nation’s food supply and safety.

Another consequence of inadequate funding for the College of Veterinary Medicine potentially threatens its ability to educate veterinarians. While the college has consistently ranked in the top five among vet schools in the nation, it

also ranks highest in the average indebtedness of its graduates because student tuition must increase to make up for inadequate state funding. In failing to adequately fund the veterinary college, the state has transferred the financial liability from the state to the student.

With their diplomas, 2016 Ohio State veterinary graduates took with them an average indebtedness of $192, 000. That’s compared to over $150,000 for graduates of other U.S. veterinary colleges.

The student-to-faculty ratio at U.S. vet schools ranges from 2.0 to 5.3. Guess where OSU ranks. Dead last at 5.3! This is a major problem!

Ohio State’s College of Veterinary Medicine must have significantly more funding to hire 80 additional faculty to maintain increasingly high standards for graduates – and research – and to keep tuition from increasing even further and preventing access to such a veterinary career for those from rural and socioeconomically depressed areas because of affordability. The college struggles because of a lack of appropriate and necessary state funding. The college is in the hole by at least $13 million each year. This is not sustainable.

Don’t get me wrong. Current faculty are top-notch, dedicated and some of the hardest working on the entire campus. But the burnout rate has become phenomenal the past few years due to the increasing workload and lack of funding for more faculty.

Dean Rustin Moore confirms that the college needs at least 80 more faculty to get to a level that would be commensurate with peer colleges of veterinary medicine and to correct the lopsided faculty-to-student ratio. This is important for numerous reasons, including improving the faculty-to-student ratio and thus enhancing veterinary students’ educational experience, conducting important animal agricultural and comparative biomedical research to improve the health and well-being of animals and people in Ohio and beyond; providing the most advanced veterinary medical care for companion animals, farm animals and horses; and to help protect Ohio’s animal agricultural industry through outreach, surveillance and prevention. Yet, the current faculty have stepped up and continue to provide students with a superb education while delivering on the college’s other mission areas and responsibilities. I believe it is phenomenal how the college has maintained its position as one of the top five vet schools, despite

the inexcusable lack of state support and the intense workload of the current faculty. In addition to more faculty, the increased state funding will also help make a veterinary medical education accessible and affordable to those interested in such a career of service from backgrounds and socioeconomically depressed areas, which are the very areas that are underserved by veterinarians.

But this situation can’t continue go on indefinitely without further negative consequences for the college, students/graduates, and the state!

Ohio’s Legislature must step up to enable the college to meet 21st century issues and needs that could have life-changing health and economic implications for all our society. Think about this. An additional $13 million per year in Ohio’s nearly $60 billion budget is a “drop in the bucket” that will have a wonderful return on investment.

In the past 10 years, the number of food-borne diseases has nearly doubled. Biosecurity is paramount in our global economy, considering the threat of an increasing number of extremists in the world that believe when they attack the “Great Satan” it will mean a trip to heaven with 77 virgins.

We all need to challenge the legislature and governor to identify long-term answers for Ohio’s and the nation’s food supply and biosecurity. A Band-Aid approach won’t work. The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine is a stellar medical institution with a longstanding reputation and tradition of excellence and impact that deserves more than being assigned to the “hind tit” by our inefficient, bureaucratic state institutions.

An example of government inefficiency at work is the recent liquidation of the state prison farm system, for which Ohio State provided veterinary services. After recently investing millions in improvements to this system, the state turned right around and shut it down. If this is the best our state leaders have to offer, we’re in trouble.

Governor Kasich boasts about reversing our state’s finances from near bankruptcy to a balanced budget with reserves left over for a rainy day.

He will need these reserves, not if, but when, the rain pours down in the form of diseases that enter the U.S. and threaten the American (and Ohio) agricultural economy and our food supply. For instance, foot and mouth disease, numerous influenza diseases, PED-like diseases, and 700 or so viral pathogens not well understood, at least without continuing research by institutions like the Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine.

To help meet these challenges head on, Ohio State needs sufficient funding to maintain a full complement of top-notch faculty – both to meet the demand for educating and preparing highly-skilled practicing veterinarians in the field and to sustain ongoing research to help veterinarians protect our agricultural economy and food supply as new threats develop.

Please contact your state senator and state representative to encourage them to support increased funding for the College of Veterinary Medicine at The Ohio State University. Remind them that without their support, it is unlikely that the vet college will be able to maintain its current standing in the forefront of veterinary medicine or contribute to and support Ohio’s agricultural industry/community at a level that is needed and deserved.

Also, contact Ohio’s U.S. senators and your congressman to express your concern that significant governmental support is needed to ensure that veterinarians and the institutions that educate them are prepared to head off new disease outbreaks and assure the safety of our nation’s food supply.

Rural Life Today