Wed | Nov 14, 2018

Ja's health standards high

Published:Monday | November 24, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

Safeguarding human and animal health continues to be a priority for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, which is implementing several policies and programmes geared towards enhanced disease surveillance, monitoring and control and improvement of food safety systems.

Among these is the recently launched National Animal Identification and Traceability System for cattle (NAITS), as well as the Agricultural Compe-titiveness Project funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and other initiatives which have seen ongoing work with the IDB in the improvement of laboratory infrastructure, enhanced laboratory capability, and capacity building.

That's the assurance from Dr Osbil Watson, chief veterinarian in the Veterinary Division of the agriculture ministry, who also disclosed that it has embarked on increased collaboration with other local regulatory agencies such as the Ministry of Health and Bureau of Standards Jamaica in delivering on its mandate to safeguard public health.

Dr Watson added that this has taken on greater urgency in light of the ease of travel facilitated by the technological advances in air and sea transportation which have seen more people travelling to farther places, and getting there quicker and in greater comfort. This has resulted in an unprecedented upswing in the movement of goods, services and people across the world. In fact, globalisation is recognised as one of the most significant changes in recent decades, profoundly impacting as it does, global trade, economics, and cultural interactions.

And while security checks and border patrols can prevent and reduce incidents of drug smuggling and weapons trafficking, even with the best of intentions, equipment and policies, the potential threat from diseases is not so easily detected, identified or prevented. This is in large measure the result of the global increase and demand for protein and food of animal origin, which is driving up the risk/threat from zoonotic diseases (can be transmitted from animals to humans), with about 75 per cent of the new emerging diseases over the last several decads being zoonotic in nature.

Be Careful

"This is why we have to be very careful in trade," Dr Watson told The Gleaner. "Everything imported is a risk. There is no zero risk when it comes to importation of animals and animal products."

Explaining that the increasing interaction between domestic animals, wildlife and humans is a key factor with the dynamics of emerging, re-emerging diseases and the transmission of zoonotic pathogens, he warned that these can cause severe suffering and death, in the process putting an enormous economic burden on the affected countries.

Pointing out that a re-emerging disease may be regarded as a known or endemic disease that either shifted its geographical distribution or expanded its host range, or significantly increased its prevalence, the veterinarian identified some of the main factors contributing to the emergence and re-emergence and, generally, the spread of diseases. These are changing ecosystems and climate change; land development/land use; microbial adaptation and change; host susceptibility to infection; international travel and commerce and the illegal trade in wildlife and exotic animals.

Across the world, wildlife is regarded as an important source in the transmission of infectious diseases to both domestic animals and humans, with wildlife populations usually serving as reservoirs for pathogens that can threaten animal and human health and posing a severe threat to the conservation of global biodiversity.

For this reason, these diseases and food-borne illnesses continue to be a significant threat to public health globally, with more than 200 food-borne illnesses known to exist. The expansion of the global trade of foods over the past decades has resulted in significant increase in the scope and range of food-borne illnesses and other infectious diseases. This has provided further opportunities for the movement of pathogens into new hosts and new populations.

In an effort to prevent the spread of diseases across borders and to safeguard human and animal health, there has been strong collaboration between international governing bodies and agencies such as the World Organization of Animal Health and World Health Organization (WHO) resulting in establishment of the Codex Alimentarius Commission by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations and WHO in 1963 to harmonise international food standards, guidelines and codes of practices in the food trade.

Food-Standard Coordination

The Commission also promotes coordination of all food-standards work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organisations.

And Jamaica has been vigilant in this regard, according to Dr Watson.

"In an effort to safeguard human and animal health, Jamaica has implemented and continues to strengthen stringent sanitary and phyto-sanitary guidelines for importation of foods, in keeping with international best practices. In addition, disease surveillance, inspection and monitoring procedures are routinely carried out," he assured. This, he said, is done in collaboration with other regulatory agencies and government ministries, including the Ministry of Health and the Bureau of Standards.

"Jamaica does not allow the importation of animals or animal products from countries in which animals are affected by devastating World Organization for Animal Health-listed diseases," he added.