Increasingly, agricultural topics in the news seem to have consequences for people, for animals and for the environment. Today, that interaction is inescapable, as issues like antibiotic resistance and diseases such as influenza evolve.

Also increasingly, solutions to such complex issues are often determined by special interest groups or politicians. Imagine a world where a scientific coalition of human and veterinary medical specialists and environmental scientists work together to develop policies and solutions for critical issues confronting agriculture.

In 2007, collaboration between the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Medical Association provided a foundation for just such an effort. Known as the One Health Commission, the initiative promotes collaboration across human, animal and environmental sciences to improve health locally, nationally and globally.

“This will require improved communication, coordination and collaboration among our various professional associations, academia, government and industry,” says Roger Mahr, DVM, chief executive officer of the One Health Commission. “It is critical that the One Health approach be embraced because the convergence of animal, human and ecosystem health offers far-reaching benefits for all three.”

Recent disease outbreaks such as tuberculosis, HIV, West Nile virus and Novel H1N1 2009 influenza underscore the motivation behind the effort. “Fostering relationships and improving communication among organizations such as the World Health Organization, World Organization for Animal Health, and the Food and Agriculture Organization will enhance gains in global health,” Mahr says.

Although the One Health strategy is beginning in the United States, Mahr sees it ultimately leading to an integrated international strategy.

Corrie Brown, DVM, University of Georgia, echoes the need for One Health, pointing to the growth in globalization and international trade. “Meat is moving all over the world,” she says.

Animal agriculture is globalizing further as more people are eating meat, and population growth is on a steady upward trend. By 2020, the global demand for animal protein is estimated to increase by 50 percent over current levels, and by 2050, the global population is estimated to be 9 billion.

Not only will South America and China increase their meat and poultry production, but Eastern Europe will begin developing more animal products, as well. Clearly, competition for the U.S. pork industry will be a factor going forward.

For the U.S. pork sector to grow, expanding sales in the global market is a must. The U.S. pork industry currently exports about 20 percent of its annual production and stands to benefit from a successful One Health initiative.

“International animal health is a public good that will help the economy and feed the world,” Brown says. “We need to continue to invest in the animal health infrastructure globally. We also need to learn more about disease to safeguard our industries.” In the United States, that means maintaining vigilance so trade will not be shut down.

The One Health approach is based on creating a close working relationship between physicians and veterinarians. After all, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 60 percent of all human pathogens are transmissible between humans and animals.

But getting the groups to work together may be easier said than done, according to Harry Snelson, DVM, director of communications, American Association of Swine Veterinarians. “We have a long way to go to get physicians on board for a concept like this.”

He emphasizes that veterinarians and livestock producers are well familiar with the One Health concept. “Protecting public health is paramount in the veterinary oath, and the human/animal interface is where veterinarians and producers work on a daily basis. What we do on the farm impacts both human and animal health,” Snelson says.

He acknowledges the potential benefits as One Health moves forward but is cautious about ramifications, as human medicine often takes precedence over issues involving the health of animals. For example, Snelson points out that USDA research funding for animal health is tiny compared to the dramatic increases in funding for the National Institutes of Health. “Basic research is critical to animal agriculture for which funding and resources are diminishing and often simply unavailable,” he adds. “It’s the type of research that does not have high profit return but has long-term benefits.”

He has sincere concerns regarding who is in control and what the direction is. “Animal ag has been a whipping boy long enough,” Snelson adds.

He points to several topics that need to be addressed, as One Health moves forward:

  • Establish communication and trust without biased agendas, as well as improve outreach to understand the impact of the human/animal interface.
  • Promote greater understanding of modern agriculture and dispel common misconceptions. 
  • Raise the public-health service’s awareness regarding disease prevention and conventional animal agriculture. 
  • Improve funding and resource allocation.
  • Establish research goals that meet the needs of both animal and human health.
  • Provide animal agriculture access to more funding sources for animal health and production research.
  • Establish communication and objectives that are relevant to both groups without slighting animal health.
  • Jointly communicate results with sensitivity to the impact regarding public perception, market access and trade implications.

For a deeper perspective on the future of One Health, Pork editors posed the following questions to Mahr.         

Q: How did the One Health initiative come about and what groups are involved?      

Mahr: In July 2006, as I became president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, I unveiled my vision for a One Health initiative. The late Ronald Davis, MD, then president-elect of the American Medical Association, shared my vision. This collaboration led to establishing the One Health Initiative Task Force. (You can read more at porkmag.com/health.)

A multidisciplinary One Health Joint Steering Committee, supported by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, allowed the transition from a task force to form the One Health Commission.  That commission was officially chartered on June 29, 2009, as an independent non-profit organization.  It has a temporary administrative office in Kansas City, thanks to support from the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute and the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation.

The seven professional associations represented include the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, Association of Academic Health Centers, Association of American Medical Colleges, Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, and Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

Q: What are the One Health Commission’s current activities and efforts?

Mahr: Last November, the commission partnered with the National Academy of Sciences to hold an inaugural summit. It set the stage for the commission’s work but also served as a forerunner to a proposed Institute of Medicine/National Research Council study on One Health, which is expected to commence this year.

The One Health Commission is now finalizing its strategic business plan. Its vision is to be the leading center for One Health communications and resources through closer professional interactions, collaborations and educational opportunities across the health-science professions to improve the health of people, animals and our environment.

Q: What are the greatest challenges to the implementation of One Health?

Mahr: A changing global environment with interconnected animal and human contact creates significant challenges. It requires integrated solutions and calls for collaborative leadership from the various professional disciplines and institutions, including academia, government agencies, non-governmental organizations and industries. 

We need to bridge relationships, and perhaps the greatest barrier to that is the inherent spirit of competitiveness and sense of ownership. Therefore, the greatest challenge is creating a state of trust and establishing a pre-competitive space to work collaboratively for the benefit of people, animals and our environment.

Q: How will the One Health Commission work to overcome those challenges?

Mahr: The vision is to establish closer professional interactions, collaborations and educational opportunities across the health-science professions — working locally, nationally and globally. The One Health Commission identified three strategic goals to achieve its mission:

  • Provide leadership to develop and implement an integrated strategy toward One Health by establishing a leading center for communications and resources.
  • Inform all audiences about the importance of the One Health approach by becoming the leading communicator of related information.
  • Transform the way human, animal and ecosystem health-related disciplines and institutions work together by facilitating and promoting collaboration and to illustrate the value of the One Health approach.

The One Health Commission envisions more interdisciplinary education, training and research programs; greater information sharing related to disease detection, diagnosis and prevention; and accelerated development of new therapies and approaches for unmet health needs. 

The proposed Institute of Medicine/National Research Council consensus study will offer implementation recommendations for One Health — domestically and internationally — and establish research priorities. The One Health Commission would serve as the driving force to implement the study’s recommendations.

Q: What do you see as the biggest benefits for pork producers with a fully functioning One Health Commission?

Mahr: Ensuring a safe food supply that is of high quality, available and affordable is at the center of the One Health approach. This includes not only improved disease surveillance, prevention and response, but also reducing the occurrence of foodborne illnesses from contamination or deficient processing techniques. 

We must provide audiences with timely and accurate information related to animal, human and ecosystem health, thus creating a national and international awareness and understanding that healthy animals are essential to improving and protecting human health as well as our environment’s health. Likewise, healthy people and a healthy ecosystem are essential to improving and protecting animal health.

More information sharing related to global disease surveillance, detection and diagnosis would improve overall disease control and prevention. Interagency collaboration and interdisciplinary research related to emerging and zoonotic diseases would further strengthen our national bio- and agro-defense against a potential foreign animal-disease outbreak or bioterrorism.  

More interdisciplinary programs in education, training, research and policy with an emphasis on animal health would benefit both animals and humans. Such work also would lead to new therapies and approaches to treatment and prevention within the pork industry.

Q: Could One Health address the antibiotic-use issue in livestock production that’s currently swirling around in Washington, D.C.?

Mahr: The proposed Institute of Medicine consensus study could provide One Health with evidence-based rationale for establishing guidelines to determine the judicious use of antimicrobials in both humans and animals, as well as offer recommendations to establish and/or change related governmental policies.

So, in what is increasingly an interconnected world, the One Health Commission will establish the professional interaction necessary to monitor health issues and find solutions to keep humans, animals and the environment healthier.


Putting One Health into Action

Developing education and training centers of excellence through collaboration among colleges and schools of veterinary medicine, human medicine and public health is a major objective of the new One Health initiative.

Already underway is a new education program that is designed to prepare high school students for careers in veterinary medicine. The National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense launched the program with funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The One Health Career-Oriented Youth Educational National Program takes aim at a national shortage in veterinary paraprofessionals. The program emphasizes the public health and regulatory aspects of zoonotic and exotic diseases to qualify students as veterinary paraprofessionals and increase their prospects of securing related jobs after graduation.

The curriculum consists of 75 core lessons about basic veterinary science and career education across three tracks, each with 25 lessons. Some of the areas it will address include clinical sciences, One Health science and technology, as well as laboratory research and diagnostic science and technology. The curriculum will be published by this fall as a handbook and as a Web-based course with interactive features, to establish a national curriculum in workforce development of youth, called “Veterinary Science: Preparatory Training for Veterinary Assistants.”

Participating students will serve as apprentices in their chosen fields. They will be able to observe professionals at work and will receive 120 hours of on-the-job training before achieving certification.

This follows USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture program to shore up the U.S. food-animal veterinary shortage. NIFA’s Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program will repay student loans of qualified veterinarians in return for their services in regions with a veterinarian shortage. In return for a three-year service commitment in a designated area, NIFA may repay up to $25,000 of student-loan debt per year. The program’s first applications are due by June 30. Offers of acceptance will be made by Sept. 30.