In September 2017, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) sent a letter to veterinarians registered for the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) conference, inviting them to consider employment with FSIS. The letter notes that FSIS is the public-health regulatory agency responsible for ensuring the safety of meat, poultry and eggs moving through interstate commerce or exported to other countries.
FSIS is the country’s largest employer of veterinarians, with over 1,100 currently on the staff. That number remains short of demand though. An earlier news release from the National Association of Federal Veterinarians (NAFV) noted that FSIS has a 13% vacancy rate of public-health veterinarians, many of these being supervisory positions.
The NAFV notes that a recent Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) food safety report indicates that the incidence of foodborne illnesses from Listeria, Salmonella, and Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) have increased in recent years. Between 2013 and 2016, FSIS inspectors have recorded a 4% increase in Listeria, 2% in Salmonella and a 21% increase in STEC. And according to NAFV, previous analyses have indicated the number of infections far exceeds those diagnosed. A report from FSIS indicates that Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and E. coli O157:H7 illnesses attributed to FSIS-regulated products increased 72% in 2016, illustrating a need for a highly educated and well-trained food-safety workforce.
In a news release, NAFV stresses that FSIS must have a professional leadership workforce that is highly educated and well-trained in science and food safety-related issues to ensure food inspections are conducted correctly, efficiently and effectively. “Leaders and Directors of this agency must be required to have formal food safety education and expertise,” NAFV notes, adding that “these qualifications are currently lacking at the highest levels of FSIS management.”
According to information from NAFV, there were 720 FSIS veterinarians working in food-safety inspections in 2016, reflecting an 11% vacancy rate. About $10 million in FSIS appropriations would be needed to bring the agency’s food-inspection force up to full strength.
Public-health veterinarians perform several specialized tasks in protecting food safety, including:
- Anti-mortem inspections for zoonotic and foreign animal diseases.
- Post-mortem verification of food safety, disease and conditions and carcass disposition.
- Expert direction of the national residue program.
- Decision and direction of sample collection for pathology and microbiological determinations.
- Verification of eligibility of products for export and signing of certificates.
Most FSIS veterinarians work in meat and poultry plants, enforce federal meat and poultry inspection procedures and advise academia, industry and professional groups on the effectiveness of food safety controls. FSIS notes, though, that it also employs veterinarians to work as epidemiologists, pathologists, auditors, risk analysts and biosecurity experts.
FSIS veterinarians investigate outbreaks of foodborne illness in collaboration with local health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They assess State inspection programs, design new inspection systems and procedures, evaluate agency programs to assess their effectiveness in ensuring the safety of meat, poultry and egg products and create and deliver training and educational programs.
"USDA needs more professionals with formal professional food safety education and credentials, as well as food safety experience, to better implement continuous improvements in food safety and avoid increases in food safety illnesses as reported by FSIS in 2016,” says the NAFV.
According to FSIS, the agency offers competitive salary and a benefits package including affordable health care for employees and their families, paid annual and sick leave, a matching 401(K) plan, and recruitment incentives for hard-to-fill locations. The total value of benefits equals about 40% of a veterinarian’s salary, according to FSIS.
APHIS Seeks Foreign Service Officers
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service also hires veterinarians for domestic and international work.
APHIS recently announced a recruitment effort for Foreign Service Officer (FSO) Trainees to become Veterinary Medical Officers and Agriculturists within the agency’s International Services (IS) program. “These FSOs are IS’s feet on the ground, conducting this work in nearly 30 countries to safeguard American agriculture by collaborating with foreign partners to control pests and diseases before they can harm U.S. agriculture,” according to APHIS.
“From working at APHIS to combat the spread of insects in imported fruit, to working with USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) to increase food security in fragile societies of the world, it is an exciting and rewarding career,” says Russell Duncan, an FSO who has served at the U.S. embassies in Pretoria, South Africa and Lima, Peru.
To explore employment opportunities with USDA or other federal agencies, visit www.usajobs.gov
APHIS Veterinary Services also administers the National Veterinary Accreditation Program (NVAP). Accredited veterinarians serve as the first line of defense in ensuring the health of the Nation’s livestock and poultry, according to APHIS/VS. “APHIS is dependent on accredited veterinarians for carrying out many of the programs and services designed to protect public health and safeguard animal health,” the agency says. Those programs and services include
- Animal identification.
- Disease prevention, control, and eradication.
- Regulatory immunization.
- Regulations for intrastate, interstate, and international shipment of animals and animal byproducts.
- Instructions on the proper selection, completion, and submission of regulatory forms.
For NVAP information and training modules, go to www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/nvap
Consider joining NAHERC
Veterinarians and veterinary technicians have an opportunity to join the front-line battle during an outbreak of FMD or other animal-health emergencies by joining the National Animal Health Emergency Response Corps (NAHERC). The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) formed NAHERC in 2001. Corps members can include veterinarians with a valid U.S. veterinary diploma from an accredited program, animal-health technicians, veterinary technicians and qualified students. In an emergency, APHIS would call up NAHERC members for paid tours of duty generally lasting 21 to 30 days. NAHERC members have the right to refuse assignments but during deployment become temporary APHIS employees. Veterinarians can serve multiple tours up to a full year.