College of Veterinary Medicine

From the Dean

A Vaccine for E. coli

by Bryan 4. October 2009 18:43

When it comes to ensuring the safety of our food supply, multiple approaches are better than single approaches.  Of course one critical approach is testing for the presence of disease-causing organisms, such as E. coli.  Another is procedures for handling of carcasses in the slaughter and preparation chain.  That these can break down, or not be implemented appropriately, should not be surprising.

The fallibility of testing was brought home again in this recent piece in the NY Times.  I was also struck by the long convoluted history of what may end up on our tables as ground beef, but that is mostly an aside.

Another strategy being pursued by scientists in our college through their role in the Washington Vaccine Alliance is to develop a vaccine to reduce shedding of E. coli O157 from infected cattle, especially those known as super shedders.  An effective vaccine could reduce the shedding, and thus the risk of contamination of the food supply would also be reduced.  This does not mean that other control strategies are unimportant.  Rather, I think it means that there would be less risk of disease should there be breaks in other control strategies.

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Finally, Some Progress on Loan Repayment for Veterinary Shortage Areas

by Bryan 10. July 2009 07:05

At long last, the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program is a reality.

The "final rule" was published in the Federal Register yesterday.  There is still an additional 60 day comment period, but this is, in effect, now the final implementation of the program.  The justification and focus pertain to the shortage of rural, food animal-oriented veterinary practitioners, about which I've commented before (here and here, for example).

In brief, this program anticipates accepting applications from individuals it deems qualified as serving a veterinary shortage area.  Student educational loan repayment of up to $25,000 per year is anticipated for 3 or 4 years (with an additional amount intended to compensate for the tax implications of the loan repayment).  What constitutes a veterinary shortage area can be defined differently over time as state veterinarians propose what should be considered shortage areas.  The clear intent, however, is that these areas will relate primarily to rural, agricultural animal needs (or, possibly, plausibly related needs such as animal health emergency, food safety, and diagnostic laboratory functions, for example).

At the end of the day, those who may benefit from this program will have to await more specificity from the USDA as to exact implementation, but finally this program is a reality.  Those of you who are interested in following the implementation of this program -- which anticipates the first applications to be submitted in about January of 2010 -- can do so at this web site.

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A Book Banning ... or Not - UPDATED

by Bryan 28. May 2009 06:51

UPDATE: (posted 10:55, 2009-06-01): For the latest round of information about the "reinstatement" of this program see this post on Bill Marler's blog (which is simply links to several related news items).  Note that much of the commentary still refers to "reinstatement" as though the program were cancelled, perpetuating what I think was a mischaracterization in the first place, as I noted below in the orginal post.

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Yesterday the 2009 WSU Common Reading program was restored to its normal scope after a week of attention in local and national media about the book, Omnivore's Dilemma, being banned (see, for example, this story in the Seattle Times).  The Common Reading program is back on track thanks to the generosity of former Regent and good Coug Bill Marler, who blogs about this here, and here.

So what is the real story?  I do not know many details, but there are some things I'm pretty sure about:

Characterizations that the program was halted or that the book was banned are not accurate.  Was the program changed?  Yes.  Was the program scaled back?  Yes - in particular, the special features that characterized previous years, for example, one or more invited speakers, including the author, were dropped.  And, yes, the decision was made to have the book distributed to only those students who enrolled in courses where faculty chose to integrate the book, rather than to have all students receive it over the summer at their Alive! session.

The scaling back of the program was driven by significant cuts to its budget as part of WSU's $27 million state budget reduction next year.  From the tone of some of the commentary I've seen, this explanation was greeted with skepticism; that skepticism, however, was not well grounded in fact.

I believe Warwick and Elson when they say there was no outside pressure.  Where that notion, as reported in the Spokesman Review, came from is not apparent to me.  Could the book be controversial?  Yes; given that Omnivore's Dilemma takes a critical look at how food gets to our tables, this is not an unwarranted thought.  (I am still reading the book, and I may have more to say about this later, when I am finished.)  However, if you think about it, scaling back the program is not a response that would satisfy outside pressure to not use the book  -- whether a few hundred or all 4,000 copies are used, any use has the potential for controversy and pressure.

Would another book have been chosen had the selection process been followed as it should have?  Possibly.  Who knows...and, frankly, who cares?  Any book worth its salt for the purpose of the Common Reading program would likely generate criticism from some quarter (as has happened periodically at other universities).  The fact is, however, that Omnivore's Dilemma was chosen and it really doesn't matter at this point whether a different book might have been chosen had the process been conducted as intended.  I'm not saying how the book was chosen doesn't matter, but at this point that's water under the bridge.

In the end, a thoughtful and supportive Coug alum made a generous gift that will allow an important program to continue in much the same form as it has for the past two years.  I hope that the use of this book in our classrooms will help cultivate in our students those attributes that such a program is intended to foster -- reason, argument, evaluation of evidence, critical thought -- and that they will learn to read, listen, write, and speak carefully and thoughtfully, distinguish argument from opinion, and distinguish fact from innuendo ... attributes that have not been on display in abundance in the communications that have flown around regarding the 2009 Common Reading program this past week.

Thanks Bill.

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Strange Bedfellows

by Bryan 21. May 2009 07:01

I am not going to offer much commentary; just a brief post about Michael Vick, now that he's about to be released from prison, joining forces with the Humane Society of the United State (HSUS).

In partnership with the HSUS Mr. Vick could, for example, promote their programs to stop dog fighting, including those that help prevent kids from beginning to participate in dog fighting and an intervention program to work with people who already are participating.  The rationale from the HSUS perspective is in this blog post, where the big "if" is outlined:

...we [the HSUS] are actually the most logical place for him to go. We have the most developed programs on the issue [dog fighting], so if he’s sincere about making a difference, there’s no better place to land (my emphasis).

Commentary here pretty well captures the mixed feelings I have about this (and has good links to other related stuff).

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What's in a Name? - UPDATED

by Bryan 6. May 2009 06:22

Swine flu, novel H1N1 flu, 2009 H1N1 flu, North American flu, Influenza A (H1N1), and hybrid flu, are among the names for the new influenza virus that has been so much in the news lately.  But it is "swine flu" that has caused the damage.

This new strain reflects a re-assortment of genetic elements from different influenza viruses of North American and Asian origin in pigs, humans, and birds.  Naming the many variants of the promiscuously re-assorting influenza virus is hard to do in a way that serves all competing interests.  Calling it “swine flu” was a disaster for pork producers, but calling it H1N1 creates confusion for public health authorities because the prominent “normal” strain of flu circulating this season has also been an H1N1 subtype; the 1918 pandemic was caused by a different H1N1 strain.  This new strain could have been called “bird flu” but that, too, would have been confusing; we’ve already had our eye on the H5N1 virus, known more commonly as bird flu or avian influenza.  Even Jon Stewart got into the act with his Snoutbreak piece.  As much of a Daily Show fan as I am, part of that piece stung rather than amused because pork producers have been harmed significantly by those two simple words, "swine flu".

This is a virus that is spreading from human to human and there is as yet no evidence of illness in pigs (a suspected, but unconfirmed, case of novel H1N1 human-to-pig transmission notwithstanding).  The factual bottom line is that pork is safe to consume; yet pork sales, hog futures, and stock prices all fell significantly.  This physical virus damaged pork producers because its name became news in cyberspace (an ironic variant of "viral communication"), not because it caused disease in pigs.  The damage was real nonetheless.  Moreover, so much information can now fly around the globe so rapidly that I think there are no longer clear authoritative voices to turn to for trusted information; or, if there are, by the time those authoritative voices engage in the news flow the damage has already been done.

(UPDATE (5-6-2009; 9:05pm)  This clip from ABC News last night has a good segment on the impact on pork producers, beginning about 3 1/2 minutes into the clip.) 

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