Faculty voice:

John Baker: Veterinary medicine is food safety

July 18, 2018

John Baker is a professor of large animal clinical sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

No matter where we go in our expansive, diverse world, there is one common theme: demand for food. Whether it is for basic essentials or the latest rendering of avocado toast, people need food. Animal byproducts make up much of our everyday diets, and we rely on them for basic and extravagant ingredients.

The animal agriculture industry is long established, but ever-changing. It can seem simple to those unfamiliar with its intricacies. In reality, animal agriculture is a multi-faceted world of its own, which requires maintenance and advancement at every stage — on the farm, in labs and in the classroom.

Veterinarians play a much larger role in food animal agriculture than much of the general public understands to be true. That understanding starts in school. As the nation’s premiere agricultural college, Michigan State University takes veterinary medicine seriously.

Our students have the benefit of learning not only from top veterinarians in the profession, but also learning while in the field. Our partnership with Green Meadow Farms allows us to maintain the Training Center for Dairy Professionals, where students learn the intricacies of cow health and dairy management. Our College offers programs tailored for those interested in food animal medicine and animal agriculture — for future veterinarians, in practice, government, industry, academia and research.

These offerings are supported by our generous donors who understand the importance of food safety and the One Health initiative. Food safety, One Health issues and other veterinary arenas can pose serious threats to public health and industry if not properly attended. Our faculty work each day in laboratories and elsewhere in the field to improve upon existing standards and practices while pioneering new and more efficient technologies, therapies and preventives.

These findings impact animal welfare, farm efficiency and human health across the board — from mastitis prevention and antimicrobial resistance to the impacts of early-life stress and microbial food safety, our scientists are making groundbreaking discoveries that change how human health is improved and preserved, and how animal agriculture is managed.

Part of that farm management is how herd health is maintained and improved upon for the future. Our faculty focus on providing proper, on-site care for food animals — not just at the MSU Veterinary Medical Center, but for every food animal on MSU’s south campus farms. As it is in most fields, part of farm management is constant questioning and innovation — the intentioned thought that pushes farm management practices to new, higher standards. By investigating accepted norms, such as bovine leukosis virus, our scientists identify areas for improvement and work to pioneer solutions that impact herd health.

Of course, animal welfare and farm efficiency are not the only reasons why herd health is important. Animal byproducts end up in the hands of consumers every day, and veterinarians play a pivotal role in preserving public health. Foodborne illness endangers tens of thousands of lives each year in the United States, and the associated economic costs are more than significant — not just for medical treatment, but costs to industry, taxpayers and others.

Veterinarians also protect the public from new and emerging diseases, a majority of which are zoonotic (transmitted from animals to people). Those who work in industry and government are equally involved, which is why part of the College’s academic offerings include a food safety program. This teamwork between DVMs, industry and government aids in the surveillance, prevention and treatment that protect humans worldwide.

Michigan State University’s mission is to advance knowledge and transform lives. Our mission at the College echoes that. By continuing to learn, discover, heal and protect, we contribute to the University’s assets, as well as animal welfare and human health on local, national and global scales.

Through our intentional efforts, we are improving the wellbeing of food animals and protecting those who consume them. As a trusted leader in animal health, the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine continues to deliver unparalleled solutions that serve our ever-evolving world.

Reused with permission from the College of Veterinary Medicine's Perspectives Magazine