OVC Prof Lent Expertise to Panel, Report on Animal Health Risk

September 22, 2011 - Campus Bulletin

A University of Guelph professor served on an expert panel whose report released today discusses Canada’s capacity to address animal health risks affecting human health.

The panel was assembled in 2009 following a request by the minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada on behalf of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Jan Sargeant, director of Guelph’s Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses (CPHAZ) and a professor in the Department of Population Medicine at Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College, was one of 12 experts and the only Ontario representative on the panel.

The group spent 18 months studying Canada’s risk assessment techniques in animal health science and possible human health impacts.

“Most emerging diseases that pose a threat to human health originate in animal populations, whether it’s avian flu or new strains of antibiotic-resistant superbugs,” said Sargeant.

The report, "Healthy Animals, Healthy Canada," calls for strengthening expertise and improving communication and transparency. A full copy is available online.

Chaired by Alastair Cribb, dean of the faculty of veterinary medicine at the University of Calgary, the panel was formed by the Council of Canadian Academies.

Sargeant studies the epidemiology of zoonoses, or diseases that jump between animals and humans, and evidence-informed decision-making in public health.

“The panel included diverse expertise, and it was an honour to work with such talented and dedicated individuals,” she said.

“Risk assessment is a powerful tool for managing animal health and other health issues. We hope that the report will help Canada to build on its solid foundation in this area.”

She said tackling complex zoonotic diseases will require scientists and agencies in many fields to work together.

The report said animal health directly affects the health of Canadians as well as national security, the economy and the environment. Animal health problems can lead to reduced trade, lost farm family incomes and lost jobs in agricultural industries. They can also disrupt domestic ecological systems.

Using proper risk assessment techniques based on scientific knowledge and international best practices can help to mitigate negative impacts of animal health problems, the report said.

Guelph’s CPHAZ promotes multidisciplinary research to solve public health problems involving humans and animals.

Sargeant holds a $1-million Applied Public Health Chair funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Centre de recherche en prévention de l’obésité. Among 14 chairs in Canada, hers was the only one awarded to a veterinary college. She works with experts in agriculture, government, and animal and human health on zoonotic diseases and public health.

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