Made in Maine: Thoughts on Food, Animals, and Agriculture
By Donald E. Hoenig, VMD, MIM Consulting
I went to Tanzania the week before Thanksgiving last year. It was not only a new country for me but also a new continent. I was there as part of a three-person team representing the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and we were sent to evaluate Tanzania’s laws and regulations pertaining to the veterinary domain. The program, called the Veterinary Legislation Support Program (VLSP), was established in 2008 to help OIE member countries recognize and address their needs for modern, comprehensive veterinary legislation. OIE defines the veterinary domain as “all activities that are directly or indirectly related to animals, their products and by-products, which help to protect, maintain, and improve the health and welfare of humans, including … the protection of animal health and welfare and food safety.”
Last December I received a phone call from Dr. David Sherman who directs the VLSP from the OIE office in Paris. (I had become friends with Dr. Sherman when he was the State Veterinarian for Massachusetts in the early 2000’s. He is also the co-author, with Dr. Mary Smith, of a textbook on Goat Medicine). He told me about the program and asked if I was interested in getting involved. The only commitment was to attend a 3-day training course in Paris in March 2015 (not a tough decision — who wouldn’t want to travel to Paris in the spring at someone else’s expense?) and then agree to participate in one future country visit.
I attended the Paris training in March where I found out that there are currently 18 countries, most in Africa, that have requested a VLSP evaluation. I also learned that this initiative was a first for OIE because a lawyer was included in each team. OIE has historically been a veterinarian-centric organization so the inclusion of lawyers was a big deal.
A prerequisite for the VLSP is that a country must first have undergone evaluation under another OIE program called the Performance of Veterinary Services (PVS). The PVS evaluation is a comprehensive, in-country visit, usually occurring over a period of 2-3 weeks, during which the PVS team travels all over the country. Tanzania’s PVS evaluation had been done in 2008.
The other members of our team were veterinarian Dr. Dorothy Geale, the team leader, and Ms. Ambra Gobena, an attorney from Rome who has done quite a bit of consulting for the World Health Organization. Dr. Geale retired from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency several years ago and this was her 8th VLSP mission. Ms. Gobena was participating in her 2nd mission. She was a team member on a mission to Ethiopia earlier this year. I was the rookie.
We all arrived on the weekend of Nov. 14, met as a team for a couple hours that Sunday night and were then picked up at the hotel Monday morning by our driver from the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Development. The plan was to meet with an array of Ministry officials through Friday as well as officials from the Tanzanian Food and Drug Authority. Dr. Bedan Masuruli, the Registrar of the Tanzanian Veterinary Council, was our host and had arranged for us to visit the veterinary school in Morogoro on Tuesday. He wanted us to meet the dean and several other veterinarians.
Although Morogoro is only about 200 km north of Dar Es Salaam, the ride took almost four hours and was probably the most harrowing car ride I’ve ever taken. The traffic in Dar Es Salaam is congested beyond comprehension with pedestrians, buses, trucks, cars, motorbikes, and livestock, and it took us about two hours to get beyond the city limits, a distance of perhaps 20 km. In addition, our driver was a maniac (albeit a highly skilled one), so while I didn’t really fear for my own life, I was afraid he was going to hit a little kid, a cow or a goat. Fortunately he didn’t. While we didn’t meet with the Dean (the reason that was never divulged), we did meet with several other veterinarians and got to see a bit of the countryside. We spent the remainder of the week meeting with government veterinarians at their offices in Dar Es Salaam and I flew home through Dubai on Friday night, arriving back in Boston Saturday afternoon November 21.
Dr. Geale, Ms Gobena and I are obligated to write a confidential report for the OIE that will subsequently be shared with the Ministry officials with whom we met. The report will detail our observations and recommendations, and identify or support the preparation of national priorities in terms of veterinary legislation. I worked on the report on the 13-hour plane ride home from Dubai to Boston, and we submitted the report in January with Dr. Geale doing the lion’s share of the work.
There isn’t enough space to elaborate further except to say I wish that somehow every young person in America (and perhaps every member of Congress!) were required to visit a developing country during the course of his or her education. To witness first-hand the living standards under which the majority of people in this world exist is quite overwhelming, troubling, and humbling, and I think experiencing it up close can only foster compassion, understanding, and tolerance.
Dr. Hoenig is a Faculty Associate at the University of Maine. He invites you to submit questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Answers to selected questions will appear in future blog posts.