The worldwide trade in animals and animal products, including dairy, cattle, poultry and beef, has become a multimillion dollar industry, with the sector contributing significantly to the economies of many developed and developing countries.

However, in recent years, the gains made by the sector have been threatened by several emerging and re-emerging diseases. For instance, the impact of Foot and Mouth Disease, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), more popularly referred to as Mad Cow Disease and Avian Influenza (H5N1) on European and Asian animal stock, has left farmers on those continents reeling from heavy losses.??

So far, Barbados has remained free from such outbreaks and continues to remain vigilant as it seeks to safeguard both the local animal population and the health of the general public.

The Veterinary Services Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries, Industry and Small Business Development is the agency charged with safeguarding the health of the local animal population. To this end, officers ensure that local production and export potential is not compromised and that Barbadians have access to a safe supply of animal products.

Apart from controlling or eradicating animal diseases, the Department also provides rapid, accurate diagnosis of animal infections and seeks to minimise the effects of such threats to livestock producers, owners of companion animals, and exporters of animals, meat and meat products.??

Senior Veterinary Officer at the Veterinary Services Department, Dr. Mark Trotman, stressed that globalisation has played a major role in the proliferation of animal diseases, with the vast majority of incidents brought about through international animal trade.

As a consequence, he noted that Barbados has had to closely monitor the activities of its trade partners and "keep its fingers on the pulse of worldwide events". The introduction of a disease to the local animal population, the Senior Veterinary Officer maintained, could spell disaster for public health and the economy. Citing the example of the local chicken industry, Dr. Trotman said the over 200 million dollar sector could virtually be wiped out overnight if a highly pathogenic disease, like Avian Influenza, was to get into the country.

To this end, he underscored the importance of an efficient and effective veterinary services department to any country.

Dr. Trotman explained that one of the ways his department sought to prevent the introduction and spread of infectious and contagious diseases to the island was through a system of licences and permits.

"All products of animal origin entering the country have to be licensed, they have to be accompanied by a permit and this allows us to monitor what is coming into the country to make sure no dangerous animal diseases are brought [here]," he pointed out.

In addition, he added that Veterinary Quarantine Officers were stationed at the air and sea ports to ensure no foreign infection impacted the local livestock sector. ??"Officers examine and inspect all animal products entering the island, whether commercial shipments, cargo or animal products in personal baggage," he said.

According to Dr. Trotman, animal disease surveillance was also a very critical component of his Department’s work. This, he explained, involved officers going out in the field and visiting farms across the island to test for and sample various diseases such as Tuberculosis and Avian Influenza. The information is collated to ensure Barbados is safe, and if perchance a threat arises, that the officials can rapidly respond.

The Veterinary Services Department comprises five sections: Services Administration; Quarantine; Veterinary Public Health; Animal Health and Epidemiology and the Services Laboratory.?? With its headquarters nestled in the spacious surroundings of Pine Plantation, the department serves a number of clients and provides critical service to the livestock industry; the import/export trade sector; and other government departments such as Fisheries, Police, Health, Commerce, Foreign Trade, and Environment.

It also assists animal owners and private veterinarians with diagnostic services and facilitates the travel/import of new animals. In addition, caged bird owners, zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, the horse racing & polo society and the general public also benefit from the services offered by the Department.

The office also gathers information from private veterinarians, farmers, and producers and tracks the movement of diseases globally through a database managed by the World Organisation for Animal Health.

"All of this information allows us to effectively get a handle on the types of diseases that exist and pose a threat to the country, provide a mechanism for detection and implement plans to rapidly respond to eradicate or at least control the disease should it enter the country," the Senior Veterinary Officer pointed out.

So, ??as the Veterinary Services Department continues to upgrade its service through the use of state-of-the-art technology and highly trained personnel, Barbadians are being urged to be vigilant to ensure that the island’s animal industry and by extension, its population is kept disease free.

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