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Food Safety Leader Promotes Public Health Veterinarian Careers

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December 3

“Society needs you!” said H. Scott Hurd, Deputy Under Secretary of the Office of Food Safety, to veterinary students as he outlined a vital yet nontraditional career option. “This country and others need you in the food safety business.”

Dr. Hurd, who began his appointment with the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in February of 2008, presented a seminar for DVM and MPVM students at the School of Veterinary Medicine December 2. The FSIS, the largest employer of veterinarians in the United States, is actively recruiting “public health veterinarians.” The FSIS protects public health through food safety and defense by ensuring that the nation’s supply of meat, poultry and processed egg products are safe and wholesome.

The week he began his job as Deputy Under Secretary of the Office of Food Safety Dr. Hurd was involved in implementing the largest meat recall in United States history. Consumers and producers alike were disturbed that disabled cows were mistreated and entered the food system. Industry groups also felt concern that a recall would have a big economic impact. Yet Dr. Hurd told the White House that a recall was standard procedure based on what had happened, and he was supported in “doing the right thing.” The recall was unpleasant and costly, he said, but science and the public health risk determined that a recall was necessary.

Preventing such events is the reason that science is needed throughout the food production system, Dr. Hurd told students, explaining that veterinarians are needed to ensure that food of animal origin is safe, wholesome and accurately labeled. Veterinary public health expertise also assures that carcasses are free of visible defects, animal diseases do not enter the food supply and food is not used as a weapon.

The FSIS employs 1,100 veterinarians who serve as inspectors in 7,600 plants across the country. Yet a food system veterinarian needs to know a lot more than carcasses, according to Dr. Hurd. Complex modern animal processing systems require the skills veterinarians bring: scientific knowledge, understanding of the link between human and animal health (“one medicine”), knowledge of zoonotic diseases, scientific methodology, critical thinking ability and skills in communication and client relations, including client education.

Public health veterinarians with the FSIS may deal with:

  • patrol of slaughter facilities
  • team supervision
  • teaching up-to-date procedures, new rules and sampling strategies
  • applying their expertise in environmental sanitation, toxicology or microbiology
  • antemortem animal inspection
  • humane handling issues
  • assessment of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans
  • oversight of testing for pathogenic organisms such as Salmonella, E. coli 0157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes and Campylobacter, all of which continue to be a threat to food safety

The career paths open to public health veterinarians include enforcement as an investigation and analysis officer. FSIS is also developing a new computer system that can track daily monitoring results and carry out predictive analytics to detect problems.

In addition to his position with the USDA, Dr. Hurd is an associate professor in the department of Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine within the College of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University. His research interests include antimicrobial resistance, bioterrorism, emerging infectious diseases, foodborne pathogens, foreign animal diseases, global food safety, risk analysis and assessment and traceability. He specializes in Salmonella, Campylobacter and antibiotic resistance risk assessments.

He urged the audience to consider a career that serves the public good and allows veterinarians to use their skills as they follow their scientific interests, saying, “Working as a public health veterinarian in the FSIS is a great way to apply science. It’s an important public service and a tremendous scientific adventure!”

Dr. Hurd earned his DVM degree at Iowa State University and PhD degree in epidemiology at Michigan State University. He served in the USDA‘s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) from 1989 to 2004. At ARS, Dr. Hurd managed research programs and laboratory initiatives focusing on Salmonella in turkeys and swine. At APHIS Dr. Hurd provided expert assistance to the USDA chief veterinary officer and other officials to develop animal health programs to protect against Salmonella, tuberculosis and avian influenza infections. He led the design and analysis of APHIS’ National Animal Health Monitoring System, which conducts national studies on the health and health management of domestic livestock and poultry populations. Dr. Hurd was selected in 2007 as a U.S. delegate to the Codex Alimentarius Intergovernmental Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance.


To find out more about veterinary trainee programs and benefits, visit http://hrd.fsis.usda.gov, www.foodsafetyjobs.gov, www.usdajobs.opm.gov, www.studentjobs.gov, or contact Dr. Hurd at Scott.Hurd@usda.gov.